Tuesday 31st March 2020

Daily Diary: Everyday Messing With Our Heads

We’ve been socially isolated for over a week. Life feels very restricted. I think about all those who are having much more difficulties than we are, whether in the UK or further afield. The least advantaged in society are now enduring a living hell. There are car parks marked out in squares in Nevada, so the homeless can sleep socially distanced. The tall towers of Las Vegas hotels mark the skyline in the background. Migrant labourers are being evicted in New Delhi and other Indian cities. Scenes of them being fire-hosed with disinfectant as if they are livestock are truly alarming. We thought this kind of dehumanisation was a symptom of war. Not so. This is a vision that resonates with the Holocaust.

Mental health stories are already emerging. In its own way it is a struggle as many of us are having our heads messed up with both uncertainty and visions of our own mortality. There are stories of women in particular trapped as prisoners of domestic abuse across the world. It’s not just your own mortality but the consequences of being infected on your own nearest and dearest. For the NHS – for the person whose space you have effectively taken as one of a rising curve.

Out on the common people are in ones and twos. A middle-aged couple returning home from a walk. Two mums in different parts of the green with pushchairs, giving the little ones some fresh air. There’s a dad playing kickabout with his young child, maybe a four year old, and a young couple just sitting pensively overlooking the ravine we call The Slade. There is a breeze and what I call a mixed sky, where different clouds are layered.

Small stuff gets bigger when the easy means of dealing with it gets more difficult. Vicky and I are both in our late sixties. We are pretty sure we might not get a ventilator if we go down badly and we have no means of checking out our fears, so our only option is to do everything possible not to go down at all. Vicky has a bad pain in her left shoulder and it’s becoming chronic. She doesn’t want to go to the doctor because of an increased risk of being infected. Yet it is painful and could probably be alleviated by the right anti-inflammatory. It’s those secondary consequences that are of concern. How many people will miss out on treatment? How far will people push the envelope of tolerating discomfort and how many conditions will get worse?

How long will the NHS be in catch up and it’s inevitable diseases such as cancer will in some cases progress to more troubling and harder to treat stages.

With all of this comes stress and anxiety and neither Vicky nor I are immune from it.

I believe it’s called self-preservation.

The Bigger Picture: Day Turning To Night

Like day turning to night, it’s a simple change with profound consequences when an infinitesimally small pathogen infects a population.

And as with the dark the nightmares come.

In Britain 381 people have died from coronavirus in twenty-four hours. The day to day figures are a bit erratic, dogged by delays in recording and reporting, but the seven-day average is much more reliable – and ominous. It’s rising exponentially. Saturday 28th March the seven-day average is 123, but with each passing day it’s rising exponentially – 135, 153, and today 195. It looks like the nightmare has begun.

In Belgium the coronavirus kills a 12-year old girl in Belgium, leaving doctors, nurses and family utterly devastated. It’s another ghastly face of the nightmare. Children are much safer from the ravages of Covid-19 but no-one is totally safe.

In Albany, Georgia, the nightmare becomes ghoulish as a funeral on February 29th turns out to have become a superspreading event in the weeks that followed, as if the dead were trying to recruit mourners into their sombre cohort.

For healthcare workers in many lands the nightmare is real as insufficient PPE sows dread and fear into those whose safety depends on it. Single-use N95 masks end up being worn over and over again, sometimes for several days on end. Hope and desperation, rather than design becomes the purpose of wearing them. In England there are now calls for PPE provision from asbestos firms and car workshops. Air ambulance workers are pleading for PPE donations and PPE is being diverted from vital social care service providers because the Government has failed to adequately provide those on the frontline.

And to the point of being a horror cliché, the virus picks on the most vulnerable first as it’s confirmed that people with underlying health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease are likely to get more severe symptoms from Covid-19 and have worse outcomes.

Another horror cliché is a deserted world. Drones flying over Paris, Rome, Athens, Prague, Trafalgar Square in London, the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and countless other tourist hotspots capture panoramic footage of the emptiness in a way that would have been barely possible a decade ago. Quietly apocalyptic

The darkness has its denizens too. Corona criminals creep out of the shadows to do their worst. Corona-spitting becomes a new, disgusting and deadly form of assault, while organised crime groups have adapted their activities to benefit from the global health crisis. Common practices are fraudulent calls from health officials and counterfeited protective equipment.

While leaders around the world invoke executive powers and extend their authority. For the most part citizens are compliant in these early stages of the lockdown, but critics say some governments are using the crisis to seize powers that have little to do with the coronavirus. Watching how China has appeared to be successful in dealing with the virus some begin to fear that moves like mass surveillance will take place.

Hungary’s parliament has voted to give prime minister Victor Orban the power to rule by decree, punish journalists whose reporting it deems inaccurate and suspend all elections indefinitely in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. A number of politicians in Brussels protest that it’s unacceptable and against the core democratic values of the EU, but the EU does nothing. Europe is, to use the words of the Italian foreign minister, Luigi Di Mauro, at war with Covid-19.

Despite that, and the longstanding discord between himself and Victor Orban, George billionaire Soros donates a million to the capital city, Budapest, where he was born.

Concerned about the pandemic’s effect of citizens coming out to polling stations, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party drafted a new law to turn the up and coming election into a postal only vote.

Where there are alliances it matters more than ever that there is common purpose. And never more so than when it’s a life and death struggle with the same invisible and stealthy enemy. As in so many other cases where Covid-19 has stress-tested human beings at every level in the first quarter of the twenty first century it finds weaknesses, not just personal, but systemic too. The fabric of the European Union begins to tear.

The European Union is largely untested when it comes to public health emergencies. Ebola happened at the very fringes, AIDS less so, but it never became centre stage. It shared with Britain the history-derived complacency that it was a faraway problem. So such matters lay beyond the EU’s competence and as a result, despite the early all too visible traumatic scenes from Northern Italy, it was slow to react.

The virus continues to affect different countries at different rates. For years a number of member states had fine-tuned passing the buck with mass migration. They had learned how to duck and dive responsibility and where the boundaries of Brussels’ authority lay. Now coronavirus challenges any unified response. Without anything approaching intelligence or strategy it succeeds in dividing its human opposition.

In a glimmer of hope, in Spain, despite coronavirus deaths peaking at over nine hundred a day, the number of patients recovering far outnumbers the casualties, more than 16,000 people have already been discharged from Spanish hospitals. But it all looks like one country at a time on its own Covid journey.

It’s becoming clear in Trump’s America is struggling with achieving a unified approach. It’s hardly surprising that twenty-seven different countries could succeed in achieving solidarity either.

Across the Channel there are Brexiteers who relish the schadenfreude. They have little to crow about as the virus begins to drive a wedge between the nations of the Union too. 

So as different countries take wildly different approaches, Belgium lashes out at the Netherlands over its initially lax measures, Denmark disapproves Sweden’s approach, Italy is fuming about being left high and dry about the economic consequences

And it looks like everyone is seriously pissed off with Hungary!

There’s a frustration in the West. Countries in the Far East are seen to have managed the virus. South Korea has kept Covid-19 at bay without a total lockdown and after months of a shutdown economy, China’s factories are ramping back up.

Test and trace comes across as being a kind of magic bullet, and there is a feeling abroad that ‘if they can do it, why can’t we?’

It’s a bit like watching a virtuoso violinist play, picking up a fiddle and believing you can knock out Bruch’s Violin Concerto Number One first go.

The British government tells its citizens it’s going to increase testing to 25,000 a day, but reports suggest there is a shortage of equipment. Michael Gove tells a variation of the story that the UK needs to move faster with testing but there was a shortage in a key chemical needed for them to work.

Not splitting hairs on the detail – just that the UK at present is unprepared.

The same is the case in America, compounded by a toxic combination of the president’s lack of receptiveness to the problem and political tribalism. When the Democrat governor of Montana told Trump that his state was on the verge of running out of tests, Trump replied that he had not “heard about testing being a problem.”

The vaccine remains a hope but seems a long way off. Some scientists are testing an old and controversial tuberculosis vaccine to see if it could protect against coronavirus. Spurring on a theory of general immunity – that if you are immune to one disease some of that capacity can be carried over to others. There is a little substance to the hundred-year-old idea – but only a little.

One way or another we will need twenty first century science to tackle this virus and that ultimately means the power and resources of big pharma. Johnson & Johnson is already ramping up production on its $1 billion coronavirus vaccine.

They are not alone.

Despite their being instruments of last resort in this war propaganda plays an important part. The ventilator becomes the tank being transported to the battlefront. Cabinet minister Michael Gove announced that the “first of thousands” of newly manufactured ventilators would “roll off the production line” this weekend and be distributed to the NHS frontline next week.

Hooray, as ventilator after ventilator rattles past our eyes into action!

Well, that’s what it feels like, anyway!

In the United States things are even worse. Ventilators are up on online auction, it’s state against state, with the federal government in the bidding as well. I don’t know how many comedy sketches have been written about the stereotypical fool inadvertently outbidding himself, but this is no joke. New York State governor Andrew Cuomo says ventilators are going for $50,000. That’s up from $20,000.

What chance winning the war when you’re battling with madness?

While all this craziness is going on the number of Covid-19 cases is continuing to accelerate. The US recorded 500 coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours. New York, the state that’s hardest hit to date, sees its highest number of hospitalisations in a single day. Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose brother just got diagnosed with Covid-19, says the peak of the outbreak in that state could be anywhere between one and three weeks from now.

On Sunday, President Trump heeded the warning of public health officials and walked back his plan to lift social distancing guidelines by Easter. Instead, makes a public announcement of “a very, very painful two weeks” ahead.

Roughly three quarters of American people are, or soon will be, under instructions to stay indoors as states try to check the spread of the coronavirus before hospitals are overwhelmed.

Top government scientists battling the coronavirus have estimated that the deadly pathogen could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans, in spite of the disruptive social distancing measures that have closed schools, banned large gatherings, limited travel and forced people to stay in their homes. Time will prove this to be an underestimate, despite how shocking the numbers seem at this time.

Many of those who are still working are in fear of the virus stalking their place of work. A number of grocery store workers are getting hazard pay but it’s by no means all. A sickout is planned today by Whole Foods Market employees in protest at what they see as inadequate safety measures and insufficient pay for the risks they are confronting. The worker who led a similar walkout from an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island on Monday has been fired.

Farm workers aren’t receiving the protections and hazard pay of those dealing with groceries. They want to know why. Yet another example of coronavirus divisiveness.

Mexico and the United States shut their border, while the Trump administration has sped up construction of a wall on the southern border, arguing it will help to limit the spread of the virus from Mexico. It’s Alice in Wonderland stuff as outbreaks are occurring in every state, something recognised by health insurance companies as UnitedHealthcare is the latest large member of their fold to waive out of pocket expenses for Covid-19 treatment.

It’s not so much healthcare insurance companies showing a newly discovered compassion, but an increasing number of customers who won’t be able to pay. Wall Street had its worst month since 2008 as the coronavirus decimated the global economy. Political promises of “whatever it takes” to save the local economy don’t convince the markets and although passed by Congress it will take weeks for payments from the US Coronavirus Relief Fund to arrive in people’s letterboxes. In Europe there are some who see ‘coronabonds’ as a means of steering away from a deep recession there have been a million job losses in just two weeks – but the Germans in particular are not keen on the idea, seeing German money yet again underwriting other countries’ debts.

In Britain, Covid-19 makes social inequality worse by the day as prime minister Boris Johnson is held hostage to fortune as he is constantly reminded about his promise to “level up” Britain. It requires a leap of imagination, or faith, to now see that happen.

Boris Johnson chairs the first ever digital-only Cabinet meeting for ministers, with just cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill present in the Cabinet room itself. Following the national pastime of looking at various ministers’ Zoom backdrops; their bookshelves and their Union Jack flags Liz Truss wins the prize.

Number 10 said it expected the PM to end his self-isolation this Friday, while health secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Radio Suffolk: “I’m on the mend.”

But cynics among the great British public, after all the bodge and fudge about the Government’s response to the pandemic barely care.

Nor do they much about minister for the cabinet office’s words in his boss’s absence, even though they read as being statesmanlike.

“Now is absolutely not the time for people to imagine there can be any relaxation or slackening …. People’s sacrifices are worth it, if they are making a difference, but we must not let up.”

The Home Office announces that NHS doctors, nurses and paramedics with UK work visas due to expire before 1st October will have them automatically extended for a year so they can ‘focus on fighting coronavirus.’

It’s a relief, but it masks a deeper and troubling problem. Britain has not invested in training sufficient healthcare workers, recruiting from countries that may soon have equally pressing healthcare problems. For example, Bulgaria and Romania have seen thousands of healthcare workers go West in search of new opportunities. But this has left the system back home with a shortage of doctors and nurses, particularly those specialising in intensive care.

The Government is to spend £75 million on charter flights and airline tickets in order to repatriate up to 300,000 Britons stranded abroad as many civil airports around the world shut up shop to curb the pandemic.  

Derbyshire Police will be given new guidance warning them not to exceed their powers to enforce social distancing and lockdown rules, amidst concerns that overzealous policing could risk Britain becoming a “police state” if officers continued to attempt to bar people from driving to exercise in the countryside.

And, surreal as it sounds, the UK takes this moment to announce an ‘ambitious plan’ to become a hub for green transport.

But then these are surreal times.

  • Alan Jope, CEO of consumer goods giant Unilever, is running the whole show from home.
  • Amid Covid-19 fears, some mothers are now being separated from their babies immediately after birth. Partners are not allowed to be there. It’s harsh – as if we’ve been catapulted back to the 1950s. The terms ‘covid birth’ and ‘covid baby’ come into use.
  • March was a month of panic-buying at unprecedented levels. Between 24th February and 21st March UK shoppers spent an extra two billion pounds extra in stockpiling groceries. Toilet paper and spaghetti feature strongly in the madness and Britons made 80m extra grocery shops in less than a month.
  • Not only are supermarket staff run-off their feet, but they are among the workers who are right in the frontline. We need to see them also as heroes and we should clap them as well as the NHS medics. We’re beginning to see those who sustain our everyday lives clearer than ever before – delivery drivers, post office workers and front of counter in pharmacies. 
  • Zoom, the videoconferencing app whose traffic has surged, and which has been the means for many to continue social cohesion with family and friends, is under scrutiny for its data, privacy and security practices.
  • Now that theatre fans aren’t able to visit, the National Theatre establishes ‘National Theatre at Home’. A range of plays will be made available to stream via YouTube in April and May, starting with One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean and starring James Corden.
  • “Some homeless will stay on the streets if hotels won’t accommodate their dogs.” Jade Statt, founder of StreetVet, urged hotels to make an exception to their ‘no dogs’ policies during the Covid-19 outbreak.
  • The loss of overseas students as a result of the pandemic’s effect on travel, and the risk of more prestigious institutions flooding their courses with UK students at the expense of smaller colleges results in universities having their admissions capped for the first time since 2015.
  • Despite many sources of employment being under threat there are British companies and sectors urgently looking for workers during the Covid-19 outbreak. Delivery drivers and agricultural workers are in particular short supply.

While my local messages tell various lockdown stories:

A request for someone to collect a new laptop:

“Hi guys. We are self-isolated, my child and I for the next 12 weeks because of my child’s condition. My child (8 years old) is gonna have to do online lessons. I bought a laptop and I need someone who can pick it up from Argos, Bexleyheath to Plumstead Common. (I will pay for it). Thank you.”

A call for face-mask fabric:

“Face masks for carers: Hi all. My parents are at an extra care sheltered accommodation at Richard Neve House in Plumstead. The carers are doing a great job but have a very low supply of masks. I made some and I liked them so I have offered to make one for each (26) of them – but here is where you come in. I need thick cotton fabric, like chinos, overalls or even aprons (it needs to be so thick you can’t see through it). I also need a cotton lining material, thin (knicker) elastic, lots of it and Singer sewing machine needles. 90 is the size I use but any would be a godsend! I am down to my last needle. I live in Welling, XX XXXXX Road, if anyone could drop off any spares please. I will put my old paper bin near my front door. If anyone could help then we can all do our bit to help them. A BIG THANK YOU FOR READING THIS.”

Gratitude to NHS health workers:

“Thank you, NHS, for all you do. Last night I was feeling a bit unwell, my daughter was worried she called the ambulance service, however we had to cancel as I felt better …. To my surprise the medics showed up at my door at 7 am, saying they knew I cancelled and was doing a follow-up …. They took a good half hour checked all my vital signs, including blood pressure etc. etc. I am most grateful to the NHS and to the two young medics. Please give them a like for me, a thumbs-up and a thank you. They have families at home too but are putting themselves out there to keep us safe …. Thanks ever so much.”

Frustration in getting healthcare:

“Medical attention. Has anyone any suggestions as to how to get to speak to someone at the local health centres, Gallions or Heronsgate. All I need to somehow get my regular 3 monthly injections of B12 vitamin, usually done by the practice nurse. I have tried repeatedly to get someone to use these centres but always get a recorded message of no use and when I get told to ‘press 1’ for reception the line just goes dead. Peter Burgess.”

Feeling let down:

“What’s the point!! I am usually not a judgemental person here; however, I go out due to the guidelines despite I don’t want (to) and keep(ing) my 2m distance as much as I can. I am on the bus going to Queen Elizabeth Hospital to find five nurses all grouped together very closely. Well, what’s the point of lockdown if they can’t even respect the two metres distance at the very least. Might as well infect the entire population and start again. I despair. I respect them but, my goodness, they need to think about this. They could be carriers with no symptoms and infecting everyone else. I wonder at times am sorry am having a bad day but this virus will stay for a long time if people now don’t follow the rules.”

And a second prayer in two days:

“Dear friends, please turn to God in this period of Lockdown. We need God’s help to deal with this terrible disease.”

Monday 30th March 2020

Daily Diary: The New Reality is Weird – And Not In a Nice Way

It’s grey and overcast, but I’m writing in the conservatory, the back doors are open and it’s not cold. The coronastory is now huge, epic and global. Beyond my own small island that ends at the garden fence there’s a whole world going about its business, largely from countless other islands, some I guess ending with garden fences too. There was a big fundraiser on Fox TV – a huge global music event, all from people’s living rooms. When I was younger this would have been science fiction, with the virtual and real worlds beginning to overlap, so it’s possible to be in isolation and be in a community all at the same time.

Yesterday Vicky rang Midge, who we’d taken to her daughter in Rainham for the lockdown. She has heard that John, Claire next door’s partner, had gone down with the coronavirus. It sounds as if it’s not the worst of attacks and he is now at the other side of it. The previous evening, he had gone for a walk outside. That’s put Claire into quarantine. Vicky then rang Claire to see if she was okay for things. Because she’s recovering from cancer, she’s a priority case for Sainsbury’s deliveries. Her fridge and larder are bursting! She’s better off than we are. Claire gives Vicky the contact number for Sainsbury’s. Vicky still has a ‘rattle’ on her chest ever since the surgical disaster she endured at King’s about five years ago. It may be that being over 65 with a post-traumatic condition she might be a priority too and we might be included on Sainsbury’s delivery list.

But it’s not to be. There’s an NHS letter, a code, and if you don’t fit the bureaucratic criteria, go whistle.

Claire is short of toilet roll and soap, so we pass some on to her. There’s the rigmarole of social distancing – parking a shopping bag of goods, ringing the doorbell then staying well clear.

A bit like when we were kids, although we didn’t park shopping when we played knock-down-ginger.

Worrying times. The world feels more hostile, more alien, than it did even a fortnight ago. Most of it might be in the mind, but it doesn’t make it unreal.

The Bigger Picture: A Matter of Us and Them

It’s getting serious.

As the UK hospital death toll rises to 1,408 and prime minister Boris Johnson is afflicted by Covid-19, he has his Damascene Moment.

“One thing I think that the coronavirus has already proved is that there really is such a thing as society,” he says.

The PM is one of 29 MPs who are self-isolating due to Covid-19 symptoms, prompting calls for a ‘virtual Parliament’ to be introduced after Easter. Some are saying that in-person Parliament could be shut for months.

Linked to Boris Johnson’s self-solation is, according to a news bulleting, his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, the PM’s chief adviser, is self-isolating at home after suffering coronavirus symptoms. We’re led to believe he has gone back to his £1.6 million home in Islington, having scarpered out of Downing Street, satchel over his shoulder, like a naughty truant bunking off school, half an hour after his boss’s announcement he was self-isolating. If he isn’t en-route to County Durham, breaking a number of the rules he was instrumental in making for the rest of us, he soon will be.  

It’s that instinct at the core this government that it’s one rule for them and another for everyone else. It’s one that will in the weeks ahead corrode public good will and influence the course of the pandemic in Britain.

Us and them.

Tory MP Bob Stewart has been accused of fuelling xenophobia after a Facebook post in which he called coronavirus a ‘foul Chinese illness.’

Us and them.

With June 2021 set as the date that EU citizens without Settled Status becoming illegal in the UK, disruption caused by Covid-19 means that people who require face-to-face support with their applications won’t be able to access it in time, and are in danger of becoming undocumented migrants overnight. Windrush, that combination of callousness and incompetence, casts a long shadow. Many of the very same migrants who are now playing a vital role in keeping the country running could soon lose their basic rights. Children in care, victims of domestic violence, elderly people with insufficient language or digital skills who struggle with their applications are particularly at risk.

By contrast – and at last – Foreign secretary Dominic Raab announces £75 million to fund charter flights to repatriate stranded Britons from ‘priority countries’ overseas. Some would turn out to have been safer from the virus had they stayed at their destination, but life presents other pressing priorities and anyway, there is no place quite like home.

Especially if you become ill.

The severity and inexorable spread of the novel coronavirus is beginning to come home. As cases continue to rise, political leaders are taking ever more drastic steps to try and limit the virus’s spread. It even affects the political leadership of countries. The Hungarian parliament passed a bill to give prime minister Viktor Orbán sweeping new powers without any time limit, including the suspension of all elections. It gives the government virtually unlimited authority to enforce social distancing and other related rules but with liberal democracy under threat from quarters like Islamism and the alt-right some are worried.

That too is a problem. There has been a growing distrust of government throughout the west. This is not particularly that government has become significantly less trustworthy, although here and there it might be so, but because of the way in which issues become readily amplified through social media. Communication technology has rapidly outpaced people’s capacity to come to terms with it. Education has become increasingly utilitarian and critical thinking has been low on the agenda. In America and Britain especially, opinions are even permitted to hold the same weight as scientific facts. This alone will turn out costing countless lives.

In America on Sunday, National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious disease (NIAID) director Anthony Fauci predicted that the US could see millions of coronavirus cases and 200,000 deaths. At the time it sounds shocking, but it turns out to be conservative. For the country with the most powerful defence forces in the world its biological security is woefully and alarmingly inadequate. It’s also where the N95 facemask was invented. Outsourcing abroad means there are virtually none manufactured in the US. This is true for other PPE and testing equipment too. America is like a sleeping giant woken up by a swarm of invisible angry hornets, thrashing about, making lots of noise but ultimately vulnerable. Hospitals around the country are running short of PPE and healthcare workers are having to re-use masks. There are some cases of masks being made to last a week, many more where face coverings are improvised.

President Trump, on a call with governors, suggested a shortage of test kits had been resolved. It’s simply untrue.

New York is fast becoming the world’s next coronavirus hotspot. It’s locked down. There are $500 fines for congregating in public. The wealthy depart for second homes, as they will from cities across the developed world. It is one of the contributory factors for class and ultimately race tensions come to surface. It’s not the only one.

The FDA’s US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (USPHS) is still not yet fully mobilised to fight Covid-19. USPHS officers are highly-trained public health professionals who work nationally and internationally in careers such as medicine, veterinary sciences, dentistry, nursing, epidemiology and biomedical research to serve underserved and vulnerable communities. It’s an indicator of the slowness of response.

Trump relents the Easter deadline, after hearing Dr Fauci’s prediction that 200,000 Americans could die during the outbreak and extends social distancing guidelines to April 30th. Everyone in the United States must avoid non-essential travel or gathering in groups of more than ten for at least another month, and perhaps until June, the president said on Sunday. He had earlier expressed a desire to relax the coronavirus guidelines and get the country back to work by Easter, April 12th

He also favours a business approach to dealing with the pandemic over a public health agency one as his administration spends nearly half a billion dollars on one company in the race to find a coronavirus vaccine. Forbes found a $456 million order with Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceuticals arm Janssen – even though the pharma giant hasn’t yet started any clinical trials as other firms have.

Mr Trump’s hefty black signature is barely dry of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and scammers are already coming up with schemes to defraud already cash-strapped citizens, using confusion over the stimulus cheques to convince potential victims to turn over personal identifying information.

These are not the only shysters. There are many fake cures and treatments available. Some, like heavy doses of Vitamin C, with a history of anecdotal claims of being an immunity booster, don’t protect against the novel coronavirus. Others are simply downright dangerous, yet still available to buy online on Facebook Marketplace.

Where there’s an opportunity there always seems to be someone ready to take it, and it never takes long to happen.

The coronavirus does turn out to have a knack of exposing human weakness. Name any one of the seven deadly sins and it wouldn’t be too challenging to find a coronastory to go along with it. The ones that come to the fore are greed, pride and sloth. Sloth is its original meaning of acedia, which includes not being bothered to make the effort to face up to scientific realities and to act rationally in response. So that the tiresomeness of social distancing doesn’t register that economic losses would be even worse if efforts to control the pandemic are relaxed too soon.

It’s lazy thinking that creates the binary world we’re in and politicians on the right have done their best to stoke the tribalism that results from it, so following a political movement becomes little more than supporting a football team. So already there is this adversarial set of opposites – to take measures to control the virus or to get the economy moving – the blind-spot being that both are co-dependent.

It’s the failure of people to observe that basic rule of co-dependency that’s starting to turn economics on its head. It’s hard to make sense of it, like seeing symptoms but not being able to figure the underlying illness or how to treat it. For example:

  • It’s not just the UK but countries all over Europe that abandon fiscal disciplines and control deficits to spend, spend, spend their way out of a crisis. How Northern European countries frowned upon what they saw as profligate spending by countries such as Italy and Greece, now find themselves needing to behave in much the same way. No-one seems to know where all this will end up and everyone who has hit the buffers with a credit card spree knows it might not be pretty.
  • There are some of the most powerful companies on the planet becoming even mightier. Not only that but they are changing the whole ecosystem in which they are doing business and we don’t know where it leads, only on a personal level where everything I’ve purchased barring a car and a paraglider wing (both red, by the way) have been delivered to my door.
  • Even so, the big guys can still be hit by the perverse pandemic. Hundreds of Amazon workers in a Staten Island warehouse are planning to walk off the job because the warehouse stayed open after a confirmed positive test result.
  • Weird things are happening with energy. The price of oil plummets. Saudi Arabia floods the oil market. America tries to prop up prices. But for supply to match demand, they may have to fall even further.
  • Macy’s, which owns Bloomingdale’s, plans to furlough most of its 125,000 workers as stores remain closed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
  • EasyJet, one of Europe’s biggest airlines grounds all flights due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Health insurance giants Cigna and Humana will waive out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus treatments.
  • It’s estimated by the St Louis Fed says that the pandemic could lead to 47 million jobs lost. America is in steep decline.

It’s getting serious and there’s no easy way out. We’re trapped in vagaries when it comes to even a notion of systematic testing and months away to see the light of the end of the tunnel when it comes to the quest for a vaccine. Clutching to be seen to be doing something both the British and US governments make a big deal about ventilators. Stories like how a Formula 1 team built a breathing aid for coronavirus patients in just ten days hit headlines, but the underlying reality is one of disarray. The CEO of Germany’s Drägerwerk, one of the world’s largest ventilator manufacturers expresses his scepticism of non-specialists’ ability to ramp up production of these highly specialised machines. He also worries about a shortage of supplies as demand soars around the world.

The four thousand bed NHS Nightingale hospital created in Docklands’ Excel Centre makes headlines too. As does the number of former NHS staff who have returned to help reaching 20,000, as Boris Johnson is all too ready to reveal in an online video.

They are significant achievements but all three are about dealing with the last-ditch defences, not keeping the virus at bay where we’re on the back foot. Buildings don’t break apart and dark waters don’t come rolling in but this is as much of a disaster as anything the elements can throw at humanity.

When it comes to scaling natural disasters in the US “Waffle House Index” has been used by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) since 2011. It uses the time it takes for Waffle House’s 2,000 no-frills diners in 25 states to reopen after calamity strikes and is based on the reputation of Waffle House for having good disaster preparedness and staying open during extreme weather, or reopening quickly afterwards.

“If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad,” Craig Fugate, former Head of FEMA and coiner of the index explained.

In two and a half weeks’ time 99 per cent of Waffle Houses will be closed.

 “We’ve never seen anything like this,” says chair Joe Rogers, JR, a co-founder’s son.

It’s like we’ve entered a world where everyone has gone home. It becomes the centre of our lives and all our activities, whether watching streamed content on Netflix, turning to jigsaw puzzles – there is a rush for jigsaws from online stores, engaging in arts and crafts, or making the most of outdoor spaces, from gardens to windowsills. Those with kids find the extra challenge of keeping others occupied, home-teaching and DIY games.

“I survived a week of home teaching with a seven-year-old and a toddler,” a triumphant mum declares, adding, “Just 11 more weeks of lockdown to go.”

Home becomes the backdrop to all our lives. The previously strange sight of media personalities backed by bookshelves, living room posters and paintings.

“I’m sure it never occurred to me that Krishnan Guru-Murthy had a living room,” observed Eleanor Margolis in iNews. “I guess I thought he lived in the news.”

Home becomes the base for pretty much everything. Even home abortions in England, Scotland and Wales are to be made easier during the coronavirus outbreak, the Department of Health has confirmed.

For some home becomes a sanctuary, especially when going to a very different kind of isolation in hospital. Many simply put off the day, not even waiting for the letter of a postponed appointment. Others have no choice.

“I’m 34 weeks pregnant with my second daughter,” writes Emma. “I was recently admitted to a maternity ward due to a suspected pulmonary embolism. I had to attend some tests and I was told that due to the Covid-19 outbreak I’d have to go alone and not be permitted visitors during my stay.”

For others it imprisons innocents from the lives they wish to lead.

“Postponing our wedding because of coronavirus means we can’t live together yet.”

Sticking to love, lust and relationships yesterday was Tinder’s busiest day ever. A record in smartphone screenswipes. Read into that what you will.

Yet maybe home is not that safe as a cat is confirmed to be infected with Covid-19 by its owner.

There are times the coronavirus just appears downright sneaky.

Before you realise that’s a sneaky anthropomorphic notion.

I get a notice from Greenwich Police on Nextdoor.

Safety First

Please follow government guidelines to only make essential journeys, if/when going out for your necessities continue the social distancing rule of staying 2m (6 ft) apart and respect others’ space. In these difficult times we all need to work together.

For any further information please see http://www.Gov.uk . We continue to be out on patrol so should you need us, please email or call.

Thank you

Further afield:

  • In Italy, football club Juventus reached a pay cut agreement with its players and coaches to control costs while sports are shut down, saving $100 million through June. European media outlets are reporting superstar Cristiano Ronaldo sacrificed some $4 million, despite being still on track to become the first $1 billion footballer this season.
  • In India millions struggle. Prime minister Navendra Modi has asked the nation for forgiveness over the strict lockdown measures, but said there is no other way, while thousands of poor urban labourers are returning to their rural birthplaces on foot after facing catastrophic loss of income and potential loss of housing.
  • In the Caribbean a number of islands, including  Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, St Barts, and St Lucia manage to control the virus by the most pro-active and decisive disease containment strategies in the hemisphere.
  • While Brazil’s president is in fateful and fatal denial. It’s just a sniffle, he claims.

A simple message comes to me via Nextdoor.

Pray for everybody, it says.

Sunday 29th March 2020

Daily Diary: How Quickly We All Get Overtaken By Events

The windy spring continues outdoors. The sun is shining but the air is cold. Last night the clocks went forward but doesn’t seem to matter much. Normally there is a sense of celebration. It features strongly in the news – summertime is here. But not today as a nation enters its seventh day in lockdown. We can go out to exercise or to go to buy essentials from the corner shop or pharmacy. Travelling further afield is strongly frowned upon. What seemed pro-active in choosing not to fly ten days ago, needing events to prompt me, or closing our club’s sites has been quickly overtaken by events.

One of the fascinations of history is being able to grasp how people become overtaken by events. How, all of a sudden, we come to be at war in 1914, or 1939. How paradigm shifts happen. How readily we come to accept authoritarian changes, like the police fining us for not observing the self-isolation rules. Things only a fortnight ago that would have been seen as undesirable, even deplorable, enter the realm of acceptability as we come to realise how fragile our bubble of western comfort truly is. I always suspected that democracy was a luxury that comes with being in a wealthy state. Now it’s pretty plain to see that that’s the case.

The first rain for days comes down. The outside world on the first day of British summertime has a forbidding air about it.

It turns to hail just as I’m unblocking the kitchen’s outside drain.

I get peppered by it.

The Bigger Picture: The Especially Vulnerable Migrant

It’s been a few years now since I re-entered the fold of former ex-pupils of the Duke of York’s Royal Military School, where I spent most of my teenage years. Not fully. I get hugely uncomfortable at large gatherings and I avoid formal reunions like the plague, but pre-covid informal get-togethers of a dozen or so and the occasional engagement with an email forum bring their own rewards.

Like this great email from a real old timer from the days when Dukies had been evacuated from their school premises in the shadow of a number of Luftwaffe targets around the port of Dover and relocated in the beach resort of Saunton in Devon.

“Me, 90 in Sept! At present apart from having a nose procedure, wearing a great big dressing, doing OK. Not a complete lockdown as I can still visit supermarkets, and most importantly booze outlets. Most of small businesses closed down. Am in the process of turning garage into home gym. Better still, plenty of rain after long hot summer. No ANZAC Parade this year. I usually march with ANZAC Vietnam vets. No Malaya vets in this area. No ex-Dukies either. Cheers Jim – p.s, I was not exactly the best maths/science student at Saunton.”

It got me thinking about the diaspora of so many of my schoolmates to all over the globe. I’d go as far as to say that with so many of us coming from well-travelled army families it doesn’t seem odd at all.

So it takes a particular kind of special exceptionalism to think that there’s nothing wrong about Brits travelling far and wide. You might even extend that to most of the developed world. But somehow it’s not right for others to do the same thing. To follow their fortune, to escape persecution or to set up a new life for all the reasons people set up new lives.

But there are challenges to overcome when travelling, and certainly when relocating, and the more socially disadvantaged you are the greater those challenges become and as the novel coronavirus spreads, it’s the least advantaged, such as refugees, who are being left out in the cold.

It’s a tough journey. Tough beyond our wildest imaginings. Surrounded by unsympathetic indigenous locals and regional administrations at every step along the way. Haunted by fear, both within and without, the latter often expressed as hostility and xenophobia. It’s nothing new. If you’re in New York, do make a point of visiting Ellis Island’s Museum of Immigration, which holds testimony to the movement of people into America from the days of the first European settlers to recent times.

You can’t escape what it’s like to be on the move to somewhere you believe to be better than where you are at the moment.

There, but for the grace of God…..

Driven on by hope of a better future in a better place. Some sell body organs to pay for the rest of their passage. Others, some of whom describe themselves as slaves, become caught up in forced labour by unscrupulous criminals along the way. What little help there has been, such as humanitarian operations are being suspended by UN agencies and NGOs, disrupted by Covid-19.

Losing critical documents along the way becomes easy, often to the traffickers who claim to be helping them. It makes the better future in a better place all the more difficult. With the British government’s current hostile approach to undocumented migrants, the pandemic poses a particular danger to victims of modern slavery. They face the direst consequences of a faltering economy, being ‘last in line’ to benefit from anything. As for sickness – for many the only option is to suffer stoically, fearing that if they seek medical attention they’ll be deported.

It’s neither good for them nor for the whole of society.

There’s a hypocrisy too. Governments that claim their hostility to migrants is in their interests – not to be trafficked, exploited and abused – turn out to be turning a blind eye to PPE items such as nitrile gloves being manufactured by forced labour in Malaysia and other parts of South East Asia. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) even went so far as to lift its ban on imports of such gloves on the basis that, magically, labour conditions had changed. They hadn’t.

 It’s all part of a growing awareness that’s being exposed by the coronavirus that there are deep inequalities in society. The first NHS consultant, Amged El-Hawrani to die from Covid-19 passes away at Leicester Royal Infirmary. Medics that follow are disproportionately from the BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnicity) community.

At first, it’s a curious observation, but when there’s a call for the second emergency hospital at the NEC in Birmingham to be called NHS Seacole, the first at the Excel conference centre in Docklands in East London being named NHS Nightingale it is declined. Mary Seacole is a Jamaican-British war hero who supported British troops as a nurse during the Crimean War. She applied to work with Florence Nightingale but was turned down.

The parallel is not missed by many, nor is the growing sense of inequality during the pandemic.

But for now, the headlines are about the shock of the rapidly increasing presence of the virus. Seventeen American states are reporting at least a thousand cases. It’s a widespread struggle to bring about the most basic of contingencies such as urgently issuing guidelines to citizens and doing whatever is necessary to manage a dearth of equipment in clinics and hospitals.

The New York City area may suffer a worse outbreak than Wuhan or Lombardy. It is less successful in flattening the curve to the same extent that either of those other areas and no one is clear about where it will end up. Other American cities appear to be on the same path.

An early lack of screening has allowed the coronavirus outbreak to spread largely undetected for weeks. Technical flaws, regulatory hurdles, and a lack of organised leadership would cost the US a month of testing that could have slowed the virus.

Dr Anthony Fauci is a veteran of disease control, having been director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and a key figure in the Trump administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force, can see both the alarming situation and the need for an emergency response. He told members of Congress that the early inability to test was “a failing” of the administration’s response to the deadly outbreak.

But American politics is so tribal he’s become a target of claims that he is mobilising to undermine the president.

President Trump, on the other hand, finds himself substantial pressure from state officials to do more to quell the crisis. In response he makes concessions by extending Federal guidelines for social distancing to remain in place until April 30th, backing away from his plan to end them by Easter on April 12th.

He also considered imposing a quarantine on the New York area but said he would issue a travel advisory instead.

On Friday, the president finally signed a $2 trillion economic relief plan to offer assistance to tens of millions of American households affected by the pandemic. But much of the money promised in the stimulus package still weeks away, so where the US economy is heading will rest largely on how many payments go unmade, which bills are put ahead of others and the terms on which they are settled. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs in recent weeks, an economic catastrophe many are struggling to absorb. The layoffs and furloughs across the country happened abruptly and in many cases pitilessly, overturning lives in an instant.

Many turn back to the land. There are feed stores reporting they’re selling out of baby chicks almost as fast as they can get new ones in. There’s a similar run on seeds, even from those who have no previous gardening experience, and You Tube videos on such things as how to build a raised bed have a rapid increase in hits.

Seeds must.

Meanwhile, the presidential race continues,

But online only.

And with a range of issues that no-one could have foreseen when the New Year came in.

An infected, self-isolated Boris Johnson starts to take things more seriously. He realises that this is much more than a bad bug that can be blagged away. Out of control, this virus could result in doctors choosing who we have to save and who we have to ‘let go.’ It creates profound ethical choices and fears, exposing with savage brutality who we really value in society.

He writes a letter to the nation warning that the worst is yet to come and he will ‘go further’ than existing lockdown measures if needed.

While communities secretary Robert Jenrick says millions of pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) has been sent to NHS trusts across the UK.

At last.

It should have been stockpiled at the outset.

750,000 volunteers respond to the ‘biggest call-out since the Second World War.’

The World’s oldest man is from Hampshire, and having turned 112 has had to cancel his birthday party.

The coronavirus doesn’t play fair.

It just does what it does.

Saturday 28th March 2020

Daily Diary: As If I’m Hit By A Freight Train

It’s getting windier and a cold front is coming in. We’ve gone from blue skies to angry grey rollers in a couple of hours. Paragliding has turned me into a weather obsessive, but I’m finding because of not being able to go out flying my attention to weather is waning. The details don’t seem to matter as much, so I’m becoming like most other people, looking at the big picture and not much more. But hey, I’m indoors now and the nearest I’m getting to clouds at the moment is when one gathers under the kitchen ceiling when I forget about a pan of boiling eggs.

Listening to LBC I hear that there are already concerns about domestic abuse and other frustrations with people cooped up together. It helps being retired. Vicky and I have shared this space intensively since I retired in 2012. We know how not just to live with each other, but around each other. We’re practised, which makes being isolated together a lot easier. We talk about how long all this will go on for. In truth it’s impossible to say. My thoughts go out to those who have to spend much of their lives outside their homes and the work part, with all its daily rituals, of the work-life balance is so important psychologically. It was to me before I retired. Those who use home simply as a place to eat, unwind and sleep before returning to the regimen of employment are likely to find it hard.

It’s funny how the day gets filled with the routine. It’s beginning to dawn on me how huge the coronavirus pandemic story truly is. At one level I knew all along. That’s why I began this diary in the first place, but engaging with it brings me closer, and being closer makes it seem so much larger and time-consuming. It’s easy to get swept away by it and I remind myself to be careful to avoid that. I guess that’s where the likes of Netflix and Amazon come into their own. Throw in a conversation or two with friends and family and the day is full.

My old school friends, along with other old boys from the Duke of York’s, where I went in the sixties, are having an online group chat about the pandemic – several emails daily, circulating ideas, theories, criticisms and jokes. Covid seems to have triggered something as it’s all at a level I haven’t seen before. I don’t want to get too drawn in, but sling in my two ha’penny’s worth every now and then to let folks know that I’m still alive and kicking.

The I switch to my Twitter account and come across:

“I’m going to make myself unpopular.

I wish I wasn’t a doctor.

I wish I wasn’t terrified of what I might be asked to do.

I wish I could self-isolate.


For a moment I feel as if I’m hit by a freight train.

Then I collect myself and realise how fortunate I am, and how I have a responsibility to keep both Vicky and I away from the firing line.

The Bigger Picture: Shock and Confusion

If you’ve ever had an accident, as I had when I once fell from the sky, you can probably remember that the very first experience you have of it is one of shock and confusion. Often you don’t even know whether you’ve been injured, and if you have, the extent of damage has been caused. So much so that the horror of the experience can take days to fully sink in,

The other thing about an accident is that events accelerate in the last moments before crunch time happens,

So it is when Covid-19 arrives. It doesn’t make its presence felt in a gently linear fashion. Its growth is exponential, as are the consequences and its psychological impact on us all. We are shocked. We reel from the confusion of it all and it affects the way we see the world around us. So, whatever your politics – whether you subscribe to the liberal ideals of western democracies, the simplistic world view of populism or the secure instincts that breed authoritarianism – they’re all hit for six, and all contending views are momentarily stunned.

It’s as if the fragile composite is broken like a dropped Lego model and how it will be reassembled, or even what it will be reassembled into is uncertain.

What we do know is that it will be reassembled into something different. The coronavirus crisis will change politics forever. Even if, as Stephen Bush of the New Statesman puts it, the right choices are made and the economy is successfully preserved, different ways of living and organising will have to be found.

In the meantime, as attempts are made to reassemble the scattered bricks of belief, so we enter a topsy-turvy, Alice in Wonderland world. One in which the president of the United States can utter:

“The government intervention is not a government takeover. Its purpose is not to weaken the free market. It is to preserve the free market.”

And it’s actually one of the least contested remarks he’s made. It’s a bit like saying the state needs to be small until it needs to be big.

Although President Trump is enjoying a level of public approval signs of his erratic behaviour are concerning. As America tries to catch up with the rest of the world the president tries to undercut experts. He weighs in on a New York area quarantine but offers no details about how his administration would enforce a travel ban. He adds to a widespread mood of fear and anxiety, which in turn plays to his blowhard leadership style as borders close and normal life breaks down.

As a hospital in Illinois reports the first known Covid-19 death of an American infant.

In Britain, the Government reveals its shock by a lack of an adequate public information campaign. That was topsy-turvy too. It has excelled at promoting Brexit. It has Got Brexit Done, and if you said “Got?” to any member of the public and asked for a response it would have been “Brexit Done!”

It had wanted Brexit.

It had prepared for that eventuality.

It had not wanted Covid-19.

It had not prepared.

So it was totally blindsided.

In the shock of being blindsided it did something that we can all find ourselves doing. It acts irrationally and against its own self-interest. It abandons developing systematic testing and tracing for the virus. The system had been there at the outset when Brits in China were expatriated, but when the workload expanded the Government abandoned it. Tests become limited primarily to hospital admissions and there are rising concerns about the absence of testing in social care settings.

Most of us aren’t fully familiarised with Covid-19 testing. Even some journalists don’t register that there is a massive difference between the Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR, test for viral genetic material and the Antibody test, which is for human antibodies produced in response to the virus. The PCR test is to see if a patient is infected and is therefore almost certain to be infectious. The antibody test simply that a patient has been infected. It’s useful, but it does not indicate whether they are infectious or not and no one’s clear about how long immunity lasts.

Some are suffering shock because business giants suddenly find themselves out of sync with a sudden change in human behaviour. Like palaeolithic behemoths that woke up to find that the ecosystem has changed while they were sleeping. Airlines are fighting for survival. As the virus spread, borders closed and flight routes dried up.

You can Google it. Simply enter ‘covid air traffic map gif’ and you can see animations based on aircraft transponders. Collectively they look like the workings of a single celled organism and you can watch the planet’s metabolism being infected. It’s chillingly intriguing.

Richard Branson stepped up, pledging $250 million to save jobs at Virgin Atlantic from his own personal cash pile and Virgin Group. His initial reluctance triggered a Twitter storm, many tweets inviting him to sell Necker Island if he was that strapped for cash. It turned out he wasn’t.

Some businesses rise in people’s awareness. Takeaways have become ‘essential’. Previously underpaid and undervalued, the drivers that deliver your meals are now at the top of the pile as we question what’s important today.

Some businesses have a golden opportunity. Dyson will make 10,000 ventilators at a British historic airforce base. The race is on to build the ‘CoVent’, which was designed in ten days. It could reach hospitals in the UK and beyond in just weeks.

Some change people’s tastes: award-winning chef and writer Zoe Adjonyoh provides hot meals and wellbeing kits to vulnerable people nearby and in the process helps start an African food revolution in London.

And many leave people at home, struggling to get started, to concentrate without all the immediate distractions at hand, while at the same time knowing how not to become overloaded with information. Defining work-life balance when all happens within the same four walls is the new big challenge facing so many, where partners and families all become part of the mix. Increasingly downtime become important. Socialising apps like Houseparty become the thing of the moment, with caveats, of course, about privacy pitfalls and the need to be savvy about your settings.

Also, online, Greta Thunberg’s climate activism continues. In locked-down countries there are no schools to not attend, but, if anything, the Covid-19 is an experience of how easily a world humans have taken for granted can turn on lax custodians. Climate change has not gone away and the world will not cease its warming trend because human activity has a respite of a few months, maybe a year or two. We are reminded of our vulnerability.

The medical and scientific communities do not need reminding. The World Health Organisation crowdfunds clinical and research experiences, what has worked and what hasn’t and connectivity through countless servers makes it possible for the whole of humanity to learn from failures and share successes almost overnight. If the transponders of airliners can give us an impression of how we collectively sicken as a planet, then the sharing of information via Zoom, emails and other wonders of tech surely shows humanity’s immune response.

Unlike a vaccine or wonder-drug this phenomenal development goes largely unsung, but innumerable lives will be saved by it in the months ahead.

And while the medical profession in dozens of countries pore over the triumphs and tribulations of the early days of Covid-19, the people of Wuhan start going back to work.

Friday 27th March 2020

Daily Diary: Calculating The Odds and Counting The Blessings

Covid-19 finally gets to the prime minister and health secretary. Earlier this month Boris Johnson was blithely talking about going around a hospital where there were patients suffering from coronavirus and shaking hands with everyone he met. Perhaps, ticking away in that brain beneath the haystack was some perverse and lazily thought through calculation that if it worked wonders for Princess Diana with HIV/AIDS patients it would work wonders for him too. Who knows? Twenty-four days later he’s in quarantine, having had a cough and a temperature.

There are echoes of Prince Prospero in Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘Masque of the Red Death.’

Yesterday our daughter Emily came round at five in the afternoon, wearing the mask we’d mailed to her, along with a bright yellow pair of Marigold gloves. Bless her! She has shopped for us at the Tunbridge Wells Sainsbury’s and made the hour’s drive to deliver. She’s calling herself ‘Em Deliveries’ and messages us as if she’s an up-market delivery company. We put a big ‘X’ on the front door with masking tape. Traditionalists would say that it should have been whitewash with ‘LORD HAVE MERCY’ daubed underneath, but we’ve moved with the times and the whitewash would have been a bugger to remove. We keep a healthy distance and she leaves the shopping on the front garden wall. There’s an element of fun to the occasion and passers-by in the street are mildly and politely amused. Emily has sprayed everything with a gentle bleach solution, which takes a little adjusting to, but it keeps us safe and that is what the whole exercise is about when all’s said and done.

Anyone who has studied biology, especially ecology and evolution, knows that everything is driven by probability. Stack the odds in your favour and you survive. But there is the caveat that it is random and only partly determinate. The weak link, and what stops Em Deliveries being a certainty is that her husband Tom has to go up to Westminster a couple of times a week. They try to stack the odds by Tom travelling on an almost-empty early train and returning on an almost-empty late one, but he’s in Westminster during the day, where the odds of being infected are high. Emily tries to compensate for that by insisting Tom leaves all his outdoor clothes at the front door and has to go upstairs immediately and wash his hands before he can unwind and relax. But it’s all about odds. Odds like where the fish is located in the shoal at any one time when the predators are circling. We’ll see! We’ll hope!

Emily told us that when she was packing the car, she had parked it outside in the narrow street where she lives. The woman car driver she blocked was patient, understanding, polite and friendly. They ended sorting their cars out by a kind of motorised urban ballet, with manoeuvres I won’t even try to describe. Once sorted, Emily finished loading up and before she set off looked up the street to the sheltered accommodation. There was a woman sitting on a bench, talking to her elderly mother, who was looking out of her upstairs window. All a bit Romeo and Juliet, or to be more exact Juliet and her mum. Emily found the scene touching.

Lockdown is made up of moments like this.

At 8 pm Vicky and I go to the front door and clap for our NHS, carers and all those on the front line. Cathy two doors down is out, as is Mercedes, our Spanish neighbour, two doors up, clapping with much energy. There are few others along the street, but across the common there’s a lot more noise and good cheer – even a firework or two. Then, chilled by the spring night air, we go back inside, hearing as we do so a couple of kids shouting, “Hooray for the NHS! Hooray for the NHS!”

Back indoors, to lives intertwined by social media. The whole world is changing!

Today there is more sun, but a cold wind blows. I have to confess that as a paraglider pilot I have become obsessed by weather, and in the British Isles that’s a fine line away from addiction. Now I’m beginning to notice that day by day the weather is becoming less central to my life as I continue to be indefinitely grounded.

You’ve got to consider there may be a few days when you are fully cut off. It encourages frugality. Some mistakes are hard to remedy, so the frozen chillies and garlic carelessly left outside the fridge for too long become ‘lost forever’ as their replacements would almost certainly not survive the time-lag of a delivery. Recyclable rubbish went out in clear plastic bags. Now, for the most part it is tipped straight into the blue-lidded wheelie bin. It’s feeling increasingly wrong to be wasteful. I also appreciate how fortunate Vicky and I are to be retired and, for now at least in reasonable economic circumstances. There are many stories of people really struggling and I can only thank good fortune and remind myself of ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’

We get two deliveries – a pretty little decanter I bought on eBay for £2.80 that I deep-clean before filling with whisky and some stationery I need to continue this diary. They’re left behind the bins as I don’t hear the delivery person.

Raymond Briggs’ “Where the Wind Blows” comes to mind, as I contrast my somewhat banal day to day existence with something terrible and epic taking place in a dangerous wider world.

Collecting the parcels, a couple of health workers pass by. We enter into a brief, socially distanced, conversation. I mistakenly think they are our neighbour Peggy’s carers because I mistake their identities behind the masks. They tell me they aren’t.

“God bless her,” one of them says.

“You are carers?” I ask.

“Yes we are.”

“God bless you too.” I put my hands together, Namaste-style.

“God bless,” they reply.

The Bigger Picture: If a Nation Wants to Beat Covid-19 It Needs to Figure Out How It’s Going to Adapt.

If a nation wants to beat Covid-19 it needs to figure out how it’s going to adapt.

First, all its citizens need to be singing from the same song-sheet. It sounds pretty straightforward but it does depend on the relationship between the majority of citizens and those in government.

In an authoritarian regime, such as China, citizens will be singing from the same sheet. No ifs or buts and make sure you stay in tune.

In a society that has recently experienced another epidemic, such as MERS or SARS in Vietnam or Taiwan, there’s a memory of what can go wrong and there’s nothing quite like having had the bejasus scared out of you already in living memory to make you take your government seriously.

Then you’ve got a precious few democracies where there is enough trust established between citizens and leaders for there to be a widespread willingness to pick up the same sheet and make the music that keeps Corona at bay. New Zealand comes to mind.

But it doesn’t sit easily with libertarians who believe that prosperity and personal freedoms are totally interdependent. Locking down is seen as the antithesis of that and where leaders like Trump and Johnson are predisposed to libertarianism, that cognitive dissonance paralyses both society and the economy. Lockdown measures are fine for the short term, but they threaten to rapidly destroy the economy and erode a fragile social order that’s been held together by the repeated endorphin fixes consumerism brings.

If libertarianism could once be defended as principled individualism, in the face of Covid-19 it has mutated into a species of malignant selfishness.

That great libertarian wave that Boris Johnson was riding, crashed abruptly on the spiky rocks of Covid-19.

Just four days ago, journalist Ian Dunt summed up the PM’s cavalier attitude:

“Johnson already looks bored of the coronavirus. Suddenly we need seriousness and professionalism. But it’s too late. We elected an after-dinner speaker.“

Today Boris Johnson tweets:

“Over the last 24 hours I have developed mild symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus.

I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government’s response via video-conference as we fight this virus.

Together we will beat this. #StayHomeSaveLives”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock also tests positive for Covid-19 and many wonder who else in Government has been infected.

In New York that paralysis arising from the conflict between the ill-conceived intentions of libertarianism and the hard-spiked dictats of Covid-19 appears in the desperate day to day life of emergency medics. The US now leads the world in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, with at least 85,000 known infections. New York City is at America’s epicentre with more than 23,000 confirmed infections, with a current death toll of 365. A Navy hospital ship, the USS Comfort, is expected to arrive in Manhattan on Monday, three weeks earlier than previously thought. It will stay a month and only treat 186 patients. It’s easy to define this as a token gesture – showboating, if you will – but in the context of the time, seeing cases and deaths rising exponentially, the existence of a backup is reassuring, even if it might have been more psychological than practical. The same is true for England’s Nightingale hospitals.

A Rhode Island doctor writes:

“I feel abandoned by U.S. leaders who appear to be bungling through a national catastrophe with unearned bravado.”


“Abandoned by US leaders, the only Covid-19 protection I can count on in my emergency department is trust.”

There is a scramble for the personal protective equipment, or PPE, that can help keep Covid infections from spreading. It’s not just at a hospital level – there is a global explosion of demand that far exceeds supply.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston is burning through an unprecedented 9,000 procedure masks,1,600 surgical masks and 800 N95s a day. Best estimates give two weeks’ supplies of PPE left and the pandemic is reckoned to get exponentially worse.

It’s now not a case of being able to eliminate Covid-19, or even a matter of controlling it. Test and trace is still far from developed, not just in the States but in many other countries too. Test and trace talk is all too often about possibilities rather than actualities, like the new antigen tests that can help pinpoint people who have recovered from undetected cases of Covid-19 and might be immune, even though no one is sure about whether immunity is a natural consequence of surviving the disease.

In the absence of an effective, safe and reliable vaccine or medication, ventilators hit the headlines. Drägerwerk, a world leader in the production of ventilators, finds it challenging to keep up with the current demand. There is a dash by scientists and industry to fill that gap. The Edison of our era, Elon Musk, promises to produce ventilators, as does James Dyson, who receives an order for ten thousand from the British government. There are even some new designs that can be assembled by DIY enthusiasts. While the White House haggles with the private sector for 80,000 ventilators with an accompanying $1 billion price tag.

The race for ventilators epitomises where we’re at in the closing week of March 2020. The mortality rate of Covid-19 patients on ventilators is 88 per cent, 97 per cent for the over-65s. We’re making a big deal over an action of last resort. 

Day by day the public are becoming increasingly aware that the threat of Covid-19 is growing. It’s alarming. We can’t eliminate the coronavirus and we’re barely able to control it. And how will it compound, and be compounded by other disasters in the near future, like wildfires, floods and hurricanes? Countries like America and many in Europe are left with mitigation and containment. That means social distancing. It’s not smart, like the Taiwanese approach, but it has provenance going back to the Middle Ages. Social distancing, from quarantining to staying a distance away, stops bugs from having an easy ride from person A to person B.

Because if the coronavirus gets too much of an easy ride it’s going to sink health care.

In America, President Trump succeeded in looking as though he was doing something about it. He said he planned to label different areas as “high risk,” “medium risk,” or “low risk,” to help states determine quarantine and distancing measures. He was taking charge and America would start reopening up parts of the country soon. Despite the growing number of cases, people still feel confident in government leadership. In fact, President Trump’s approval ratings have recently increased, helped along by repeated China-bashing.

It turns out that souring Sino-American relationships is another symptom of Covid-19. Like losing taste.

It’s been a volatile week on the markets as stocks struggle to climb back from the massive Coronavirus Crash two and a half weeks ago, the biggest in history. Like the aftershocks of a major earthquake there are falls followed by rallies, followed by further falls. A $2 trillion economic stabilisation package in response to the coronavirus pandemic, already unanimously approved by the Senate gets through Congress. Real estate tycoons, sunscreen makers and student lenders are among the many industries in line to benefit. Central banks all over the world bail out struggling economies. There is some optimism and big banks put off planned job cuts, to cover staffing shortages and to prepare for a potential burst of activity when the pandemic subsides.

Within the markets countless unexpected small stories emerge. On the upside, orange juice futures are soaring as demand rises among health-conscious consumers. On the downside New York’s laundry industry, servicing a stricken hospitality sector, worries about its own survival. Some companies switch over to dealing with the pandemic, so clothing manufacturers are retooling to make masks and other protective garments, engineering firms such as car manufacturers move to respirators and ventilators, tech companies are offering their huge computing capabilities to crunch epic amounts of data and distilleries and brewers switch from drinks and perfume to hand sanitiser. During World War II my father-in-law was an engineer, building Wellington bombers in a commandeered shoe factory in Peterborough. It’s the same needs must when the devil drives.

It’s called adaptation.

Yesterday the Westminster Government did the right thing and adapted to a public outcry by announcing it would scrap parking costs across all hospitals in England.

They also did the wrong thing in immigration detention centres as stories emerge of vulnerable asylum seekers being put at risk because of a lack of measures to safeguard them in those establishments.

They did a puzzling thing. Communities secretary Robert Jenrick explained why he included custard creams in 1.5 million food boxes for vulnerable people shielding from the coronavirus:

“I have always been partial to a biscuit, particularly when I’m in the house on my own, raiding the cupboards.”

They did a spurious thing in passing the Coronavirus Bill, when it comes to adult care. Under Schedule 11, ministers can free councils of their duties under the Care Act 2014, the legislation governing much of the adult care system.   If the measures are enacted, councils will no longer have to assess and meet the care needs of elderly or disabled people unless they are required to by the European Convention on Human Rights and will not have to provide adult care when children receiving social care turn 18. It’s emergency legislation, we’ve been reassured.

It’s like they’re asking us to trust them to do the right thing.

Bearing that in mind, it looks like they’ve done an untrustworthy thing. The EU has cast doubt on claims that an email mix-up was to blame for the UK failing to take part in a Europe-wide scheme for buying ventilators and medical supplies to tackle coronavirus.

Europe too has faced similar problems to the UK. Spain has suffered more Covid-19 deaths than any country, save Italy. The country is both stricken and shuttered. European governments have declared food supplies a matter of national security, but border lockdowns have cut off seasonal harvest workers. The crisis has forced a rapid reassessment of how to supply labour to farms.

The danger of a new euro crisis is growing. Weak member states like Italy need help if they’re going to survive the coronavirus lockdown financially. But the call for Eurobonds has been met with stiff resistance – especially from the Germans.

There are those who start talking about the coronavirus creating an existential crisis in the EU. But a history of working to harness 27 countries to common goals has developed cat-herding skills in the organisation and after a fumbling start it begins to cope better with the outbreak.

There are differences in the ways that countries tackle Covid-19. Most are moving to restrict public life, but there are outliers like Sweden and now Holland opting for less drastic measures, hoping for herd immunity and relying on the common sense of its people.

Further afield Moscow is implementing restrictions and will close all non-food shops until at least 5th April while hotels, resorts and spas will close for an indefinite period.

Elsewhere, other countries wait. In Africa there are concerns that many countries are woefully ill-equipped to cope with the pandemic. Underdeveloped health systems and governments lacking the resources to provide financial support on a par with the wealthier countries in the developed world. The bottom line is, people cannot stay away from work if they have no money.

It’s possibly an even deadlier threat to the indigenous peoples of the Amazonian rainforest as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro does nothing to protect them, according to the former head of the government authority responsible for their protection.

One of the realisations arising from the pandemic is the degree to which the developed world has become complacent in a kind of nurtured superiority over lands beyond their borders.

Shraddha Chakradhar reporter for STAT writes:

“In fact, during a recent 11-day trip to see family in India, I found it striking that the country of more than 1 billion people, which has not yet seen the scale of Covid-19 that the U.S. is experiencing, seemed to be doing far more to monitor its citizens and educate people about the risk of the virus and ways to protect against it.”

That a whole country can skip several steps, so that its citizens can go from a standing start to full interconnectedness via smartphones in a handful of years seems barely observed in the west. That a government can then harness that technological leap to communicate pandemic alerts to over a billion citizens hardly registers.

Similarly, there is something hard to swallow that China, a society whose values we more than struggle to come to terms with,  has succeeded in controlling the first wave of the pandemic and is moving on to preventing the onslaught of a second, and worried that international travellers might trigger it, China announced that it was suspending practically all entry by foreigners.

It’s easy to get drawn into historical memes about China being closed to the outside world, as if we’re still in the era of Marco Polo, but the fact is, like it or not, they’ve pulled ahead of us in a game where we not so long ago believed we were laying down the rules and handing out the cards.

There’s also a failure to identify that there is nuance within an autocratic regime that we would neither want nor be able to abide. That there may be cultural differences but the underlying experience of being human is the same. So it should come as no surprise that Chinese people struggled under their lockdown, that they too found themselves mentally and emotionally challenged, that there should have been a mental health hotline helped residents of Wuhan living under lockdown as night after night, Dr Du Mingjun would be waiting by her phone receiving their calls and providing support.

But we cannot simply take China as the template about how to sort out our problems. It would be naïve to do so. Would we want a society unapologetic about its level of autocracy, surveillance and control? We already have the consumer goods that the Chinese people sold their freedom for and we still have most of the freedoms too.

Even though we might wonder about the degree to which we surrender ourselves to apps and data networks to keep tabs on the pandemic. And, in the process, ourselves. The Economist magazine coins the term ‘coronopticon’ and, somewhat tongue in cheek, warns about Big Brother is contact tracing us.

Nevertheless, it turns out, despite Orwell being part of our literary heritage, Brits are willing to give up their privacy to get help and to assist those responding to the coronavirus emergency. The Covid symptom tracker becomes the hottest coronavirus app in Apple’s App Store. So far, this app, product of the Kings College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals alongside the health data company ZOE, has had 1.2 million downloads in the UK alone. Users in the UK have been downloading the app and inputting their symptoms, which are then anonymised and given to a team of epidemiologists faster than the government is handing over data. It gets a £2 million government grant.

In the absence of a comprehensive PCR test for the virus it’s probably the best we can do.

We are adapting.

Stig Abell writes in the Times:

“Britain is coping with the coronavirus crisis because of the quiet heroism of its citizens.”

I suppose it’s the case with many other countries too, as we all face the inevitable with an inescapable stoicism, lightened from time to time with coronavirus jokes, memes and funny videos, along with musical performances on balconies and applause for the medical workers putting their lives on the line to care for the sick.

The quiet heroism is an apt description of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who take a step forward to help and I’m proud of our daughter for being among them. Just a few days ago the Government called out for 250 thousand. To date, seven hundred thousand have come forward.

Some volunteers are supporting the NHS directly, others helping the isolated and vulnerable, including many elderly, others yet again setting up home industry, getting sewing machines a-whirring to make masks or getting their 3D printers to produce face shields for doctors and nurses on the front line. In some universities, medical students volunteered to graduate early so they could start internships at city hospitals sooner.

In many ways this is lockdown’s finest hour, when we saw ourselves at our best. At our most altruistic.

And quiet exceptional behaviour was the norm.

We are adapting.

  • We’re learning to share our life experiences online. For some older folk it has been a rapid learning experience.
  • Cultural institutions – museums, galleries and zoos – have opened their doors digitally.
  • Humanist pastoral carers in hospitals, hospices and prisons, along with funeral celebrants are recognised as ‘key workers’ delivering round the clock services during coronavirus.
  • Leading restaurant chains combine for a £1 million campaign to feed NHS staff, working with actors Damien Lewis, Helen McCrory and Matt Lucas to launch FeedNHS.
  • In the United States, delivery app GoPuff is now bringing groceries to doctors and nurses on the coronavirus frontlines. It’s a thoughtful move by this unicorn firm, based on what a chore visiting a grocery store is at the end of a long shift on the Covid frontline.
  • Birmingham Airport is being adapted to erect a temporary mortuary, able to hold 1,500 bodies as a minimum.

On the upside:

  • Mike Ashley, the billionaire owner of Sports Direct, has issued a public apology after drawing criticism for lobbying the British government to keep his stores open.
  • Pollution has fallen dramatically in major urban areas as people have stayed home.

On the downside:

  • Abortion services are ‘at risk of collapse’ because of coronavirus outbreak. A quarter of BPAS abortion clinics were forced to close on Tuesday, due to staff sickness and isolation.
  • WeWork tenants are on the verge of rebelling as the company continues to demand rent payments.

Travelling some distance simply to go for a walk in the Peak District, strikes up a conversation on social media. There are views on both sides, about small-minded police officers using drones to catch Ethel and Bernie taking Bonzo for a walk on the moors, and about Ethel and Bernie (Bonzo didn’t know any better) being so bloody selfish, contributing to traffic jams in rural beauty spots when we should all be showing a lot more restraint.

It struck a chord with me, being involved in a particular outdoor activity and I would like to share my response:

I had to deal with a similar problem. I’m chairman of a hang gliding and paragliding club and we suspended all our activities before social distancing came into effect because we had a number of concerns. The first was, as a non-essential activity any incident that required intervention by paramedics or accident and emergency departments, however minor, would be an avoidable demand on our emergency services. You can be sure that there are many more call-outs in the Peaks for walkers than for paraglider pilots, because there are so many more of them, and pilots are trained and licensed, including hazard awareness, risk assessment and first aid.

The second issue was we really didn’t want the sport we loved to be seen by the wider public as cavalier risk-taking. We depend upon the goodwill of the public at all times and being considerate is central to that. The landowners of the places we fly from would soon ban us from launching. At these times, setting a good example of public spiritedness and responsibility is really important whatever we do.

Thirdly, we would be inadvertently acting as vectors of Covid-19 through our movements. For example, if we fill up with petrol, the pump we use has been handled by many others. At the checkout we are less than two metres away from the staff member the other side of the counter. We come into contact with the pay machine if we are spending more than £30 and so many other things. We must act as if we are all potentially infectious or have the infection to be infected.

Risk assessment involves multiplying the chance of something happening by the worst-case consequence, should it occur. Walking your dog in the Peaks has a fairly low risk of breaking your ankle but the risk exists and the consequence of that risk, especially to the vulnerable is unthinkable.

At the time we did have a slightly exaggerated idea about risk. But I have to say I always carry a working reserve parachute when I go paragliding. It cost a few hundred pounds to buy and needs periodic checking and maintenance. I’ve never had to throw it. I never want to. But it is part of the precautionary principle any sane person needs to have when facing hazardous situations.

This pandemic is a highly hazardous situation and I’ve often wondered whether in a world made so safe so many of us have lost the mindset of mitigating risks.

I also received this notice from a charity that means much to Vicky and myself, having witnessed the harrowing reality this incurable disease brings:

We have created advice and practical tips for people living with dementia and those supporting them – either in the same household or from a distance, to help during the coronavirus pandemic. These include.

  1. Helping prevent the virus from spreading by washing your hands often with soap and water (or if this isn’t possible, a hand sanitiser).
  2. And cleaning things you handle a lot, such as remote controls and taps.
  3. Arranging getting essentials like medicine and food, by speaking to your GP or local pharmacy, using online deliveries, or asking a friend, family member, or local volunteer for help.
  4. Making a plan of what to do if you or the person you care for becomes unwell, such as leaving the number(s) to call prominently displayed.
  5. Staying active with gentle exercises and activities, like reading, jigsaw puzzles, listening to music, knotting, watching TV or listening to the radio.
  6. Keeping connected with family and friends by phone, post, email or Skype. This is a challenging time for everyone, but a phone call can make all the difference.

Every day I’m thankful this isn’t Vicky or I.

As every day I dread the possibility.

There are many more things to be disturbed by than just Covid-19.

Thursday 26th March 2020

Daily Diary: A Virus That Haunts Before it Strikes

It’s another beautiful spring day, although the wind has picked up a little. There are people out on the common walking in ones and twos and making an effort to socially distance themselves. The news channels are swamped with coronavirus as if they’ve all been dunked in a virological culture and got badly dosed up. There’s a hapless character from Birmingham who got himself arrested, having climbed Tryfan in Snowdonia, only to need rescuing on the way down. The publicity really stinks when outdoor pursuits gone wrong catch media attention. I’m glad we shut our sites, but my guess is that any flying would be sure to attract police attention and an on the spot fine. Events have moved on and are doing so at helter-skelter speed.

Last night Kath rang. She’s pretty much isolated in her flat up in Coventry. She had gone there to be near her son Paul and grand-daughter Summer. Now Paul and Summer are in lockdown. They are separated by the virus and he’s trying to work online. Kath talks of still visiting the shops and that worries Vicky and I. She’s 74, and although with a positive outlook on life to be admired, is not in the best of health, dealing as she does with both diabetes and asthma. There’s always that fear. I’ve already lost two followers on Twitter through coronavirus, each time following a comment about suffering from what are becoming increasingly familiar symptoms.

It seems that all too often the virus haunts before it strikes.

Back at home life is settling into a routine – get up, emails then Twitter, rowing machine, a coffee and something light for breakfast, catch up on some TV or LBC on the radio, diary time. Then have an afternoon cup of tea or coffee with Vicky and sort out stuff like food and other essentials, including plans to get out into the garden to do some weeding soon.

We plan to be out for the Big Clap at eight.

More of that tomorrow.

The Bigger Picture: We’re trying to fly the plane while we’re building it.

“We’re trying to fly the plane while we’re building it.”

So it is that Richard Hunt from the US department of health describes caring for patients seriously ill with Covid-19 in a training session.

Were there such a metric as the Ethelred Scale of Unreadiness and ten was the maximum I reckon we’d be on an eight.

In many western countries, including our own, it’s like the answer lies in a jigsaw puzzle where we’re receiving the pieces through the mail, one at a time. At this stage of the pandemic’s ever-changing history we know the following: First, as a respiratory virus there’s a good chance it can be stopped, or at least slowed down. Second, although older populations are disproportionately affected and are likely to experience the most severe symptoms, the virus does not exclusively single out the elderly. Third, death rates differ by location. Fourth, in a darkly parallel way to how, on a nano-level, coronavirus messes up the human immune response, so on a macro-level it sends a wrecking ball through the supply chains that keep the human world turning, including the logistics necessary for public health systems to deal with it. Fifth, coronavirus is tricksy, its transmission depending catching people out on every careless act and casual oversight.

But we don’t know some highly pivotal facts, like how many people are being infected, why some people have such a severe disease and others barely become ill, whether infection confers immunity, and how long that immunity is likely to last.

The unreadiness leads to thousands dying alone in Italy, unable to say farewell to loved ones. Some 7,500 people have died, now more than China. They are desperate. Desperate enough to accept a medical relief package from Moscow, earning itself the slogan “From Russia with Love,” and following follows a phone conversation on Saturday between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. 600 ventilators, disinfectants, masks, protective equipment and testing kits. Supplies were transported in military planes. Military medics were among the team of specialists that landed at a military air base near Rome.

But whether it’s a genuine goodwill gesture, or the exercising of Russian PR and soft power when the EU has been so obviously slow to support is uneasily unclear. The Italian paper La Stampa reported that unnamed Italian officials had claimed that 80 per cent of the supplies sent over are useless and the story dies quickly.

The unreadiness leads to a struggling health system in Spain, where despite being locked down since 14th March, Spain, with more than 4,000 COVID-19 deaths, is still struggling to stop the spread of the disease.

It leaves New York’s hospitals under siege as they start to confront the sort of increases in coronavirus cases that have overwhelmed health care systems elsewhere. Already in America, with over eighty thousand cases and a thousand deaths so far, the pandemic is becoming politicised, so much so that a CDC veteran openly wonders how the CDC has come to be sitting on the sidelines in this fight against the coronavirus.

The US now has the most reported coronavirus cases with 81, 321, according to New York Times data. Over 1,000 deaths have been linked to the virus.

And people working for the NHS is feeling more insecure than ever after ten years of underinvestment. 17,000 NHS beds have been cut since 2010 while private hospitals get 30 per cent of their income from NHS patients on waiting lists. There are real fears about intensive care beds in particular. There is insufficient Covid-19 testing and a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) is presenting a real and present danger to those in the front line.

If it’s bad enough with the NHS the care sector feels even more abandoned, with much justification.

Adding to Britain’s unreadiness is the now-obsessive tunnel vision over leaving the EU. It has to be total. It has to be complete. It has to be Canada, or Australia, or anywhere that sounds half-decent, especially to those who don’t know what it means. After all, an Australia deal is no different from an Outer Mongolian deal, but we wouldn’t want one of those, would we now? So, in accordance with that emergent group-think is ‘Britain good, EU bad.’

Which in turn means that the Government wants as little as possible to do with the EU when it comes to all sorts of matters of mutual interest and co-operation, including public health. Boris Johnson has already decided to pull Britain out of the EU’s Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) after Brexit EU’s pandemic warning system, despite the Coronavirus outbreak and despite the fact that it was a well-established online platform to let health chiefs exchange rapid information about “serious cross-border threats to health”. Despite the fact that the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals and NHS bodies, warned a month ago that quitting the EWRS could heighten the risk from a pandemic in February. Seemingly it was blocked because the Government didn’t want to be accused by ardent pro-Brexit faction, upon which it sees its power base lying, of seeking more than the basic Canada deal in trade talks.

Likewise, Britain has not joined an EU-wide scheme for buying life-saving ventilators even though they were invited.  Number 10 claimed the Government did not receive an email invitation in time. It was the thinnest of excuses, not credible to anyone. Lib-Dem MP Layla Moran crisply described this needless wooden-headedness when she accused the PM of putting “Brexit over breathing.”

The Government has muddied its initial response to the virus with political game-playing. It creates ambiguities, each one a loophole for the virus.

The need for focused leadership is already becoming clear with two new studies showing the aggressive social distancing measures taken by China at the outset of the Covid-19 epidemic significantly helped to curb the outbreak and lower the number of cases. But there is an anxiety elsewhere in a world that has moved away from authoritarian government, or where it hasn’t, cloaked it with populism and libertarianism. There is already amongst some a brooding resentment that this time the pandemic originated in China, adding to a refusal to acknowledge reality at face value that strict lockdowns work.

Propagandists for China are already claiming the pandemic will boost China’s standing in the world, and there is an uncomfortable feeling among all but the staunchest deniers they might, on this occasion be right.

The coronavirus could devastate poor countries. It is in the rich world’s self-interest to help. But many of the rich countries have been made too inward-looking by the pandemic to even see themselves in a position to do so. A China emerging early from the pandemic might well be able to, creating a new, wider hegemony. A loose parallel to America in 1945.

A western backlash is almost certain. A new fault line appearing between east and west in a world about to face a global challenge that will dwarf Covid-19, namely climate change.

It’s worrying.

In America the markets are volatile. The promise of a $2.2 trillion stimulus package gives the Standard and Poor S&P 500 its best three-day run since 1933. Investors look past 3.3 million American workers on to the dole in a week. They seemingly fail to notice the skew towards the phenomenal success of Tech companies such as Amazon and Zoom is highly localised in a wider faltering economy. They sleepwalk into the weird world of negative interest rates, which in essence means giving someone money and paying them for the privilege of holding it.

Covid-19 is bringing about economic unreadiness too.

Which in some way or other means a political unreadiness as well. The political implications could reverberate far longer than the health and economic ones.  All anyone has to do is look back over the last five years or so to see that. One thing’s for sure is that political activists will be looking for opportunities and in the world of social media who knows what volatility that will create. Big government is needed to fight the pandemic.

What matters is how it shrinks back again afterwards, or whether it even can.

And there are unexpected consequences. Some good, like Trump acting pragmatically to halt collection of student loan debt, a move affecting nine million student loan borrowers currently in default. Some perverse, like closures of nonessential businesses prompting a new abortion debate, a bizarre fusion of an obsession with privatised health, Roe versus Wade and what’s really meant by focusing on the most vulnerable. Some simply missed opportunities for necessary change, such as US airlines getting what they wanted in the coronavirus bailout bill, without environmental restrictions.

In Britain, Rishi Sunak takes the opportunity to announce almost all self-employed will receive 80% of their income. The support may not be available until early June, more than two months from now.

It’s well received.

Well enough for the new coronavirus police powers to be announced without controversy. The Home Office has published details of the new regulations which allow police to take people off the streets, ‘instruct’ people to go home from outdoor areas and can use ‘reasonable force’ to do so. Those who breach the lockdown rules face a fixed penalty of £60, which will be lowered to £30 if paid within 14 days. But repeat offenders face a maximum of £960 in fines. Anyone found guilty of ‘coronavirus coughing’ at emergency workers could be imprisoned for up to two years.

So far it has to be said that the police have been highly restrained.

While in Westminster there are the beginnings of a rift between MPs in Parliament and Number 10 and there’s a call from Tory MP, defence committee chairman Tobias Ellwood for Boris Johnson to take online questions from a group of select committee chairs twice a week while Parliament is shut.

It’s a while before he does this at all.

For most of us there is a continuing change to our lives – the New Reality.

People are increasingly using the video chat service Zoom to do business, contact health professionals and stay in touch with loved ones and friends. There are caveats about privacy, but overall it’s a great enabler and has been software that almost seems to have sprung out of nowhere. However, it does require new thinking. I personally find it fine for meetings but I still get spooked about using it socially with all but family and the closest of friends. There is even a telemedicine comparison site in the States. 

While the potential for videoconferencing is great in education. I remember remote-teaching twenty years ago, but it required a lot of setting up and in my case was used with a small A-level group in a minority subject where staffing had become an issue.

Things have changed but still have a long way to go.

In one case in Hong Kong, children are expected to be “dressed appropriately” and sit at a table, not a couch, when they log on to Google Classroom each morning. Her school has been using the free service to share assignments, monitor progress, and let students and teachers chat. They’re also doing interactive lessons via Google Hangouts Meet, a virtual-meeting software made free in the wake of the coronavirus. “I actually think she’s more focused with this approach,” a Polish mother living in Hong Kong says about her daughter. “She’s not distracted by other kids. Her class sizes are normally about 30, so I imagine a typical teacher spends a good portion of the time on behaviour management. Here the teacher can mute anyone!”

Hybrid learning, actually successful since the introduction of the Open University in the 1970s, is beginning to come into its own.

Stripping away the need for human contact has revealed its potential.

Perhaps it’s been that primal need for in-person communication that’s masked its potential for decades. Some of the countless stories are highly personal.

Like the Michelin-star chef who moves family into restaurant to cook for NHS staff full time. The British couple stuck in a motel amid New Zealand’s lockdown, needing vital medication, and fearing they won’t be able to get home. It turns out that New Zealand is among the best places in the world to be stuck during a pandemic, but at this point in time it’s an unknown and doesn’t diminish the experience. The loving couple so desperate to be together that they brought forward the big day, even if it meant a more modest celebration. The empty theatres – movie and live performance – forced to close, their staff furloughed by the thousands,

Labour MP Jess Phillips brings to light one of the darkest emerging stories. The paradox that isolating people brings some whose relationships are at risk of foundering dangerously close together and exposing the dangerously fragile sides to their personal psyches. Jess calls that hotels will be needed to house domestic violence victims during lockdown, providing sanctuary at a time these women and children most need it.

In 2016 Shelter and YouGov carried out a poll and found that 37% of households were on paycheque from destitution. A quarter would not be able to cover their housing costs at all if they lost their job. Even before the pandemic things had not moved on over the following years, with the political toing-and-froing of Brexit being a huge distraction away from the country’s deep structural problems (none of which were obviously solvable by leaving the EU). Renters in particular are fearful, and much of this huge demographic are renting from private landlords in an inadequately regulated sector compared with our neighbours such as Germany.  One story about ‘distraught’ supply teachers fearing for homes after being laid off by schools sums up the frightening personal reality.

“They’ve nothing to fall back on. They’re going to lose their homes.”

Even the more comfortably off at home are not safe in a world so interconnected by its laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Fake texts, scam calls and emails are on the rise. I’ve even had a few myself. One comes out warning people that they’re on a ‘final warning’ for breaking government rules and a fraudster was recently arrested after claiming his pills could prevent coronavirus. On an online marketplace, of course.

But it’s not all dark. Some genuinely want to bring light. Global Citizen creates a series called ‘Together at Home’ to support the World Health Organisation’s efforts. to bring us all together to feel less lonely by bringing major artists into our living room. In being entertained it’s also possible to feel that you are taking action to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

We all need feelgood at the moment.

There’s an upside too environmentally. As more people stay at home, demand for oil, including gasoline and jet fuel is plummeting. It might be a temporary illusion but people can see the possibility of ending our addiction to carbon-based fuels. It’s important psychologically.


  • A luxury hotel in Switzerland is offering a Covid-19 Service, that includes a $500 coronavirus test, a bid to earn revenue as global demand for hospitality services plummets.
  • Thousands of Olympians face not only the disappointment of not competing in Tokyo this year, but the worry that there’s a chance they may not qualify to participate as part of their national teams for the 2021 Games.
  • In a cruel irony, China still prevents Taiwan, a champion in the fight against Covid-19, being admitted into the World Health Organisation whose first priority is the pandemic.
  • All returning Canadians will have to enter a mandatory 14-day quarantine, regardless of whether they have the symptoms or not.
  • The first diagnosed case of Covid-19 has appeared in war-torn Libya.

Closer to home I receive three notices. The first is a stern one from energy provider British Gas:

“So for now, we can only help with prepay issues or emergencies (e.g. no heating or hot water). Please don’t contact us about anything else.”

The second is from the trades site Rated People:

“Tradespeople can carry out work in people’s homes as long as the tradesperson is well and has no symptoms, and can stand two metres apart from anyone else in the house. They shouldn’t carry out work in houses that are self-isolating or if an individual is classed as vulnerable and being protected, unless the work is to sort out a problem which is a direct risk to the safety of the household, like emergency plumbing or repairs, and where the tradesperson is willing to do so.”

The third, on my local Nextdoor

“At 8pm tonight do not forget to stand at your front door and even hang out of your windows to give the NHS a massive clap to say thank you for all their hard work!

Outside your door, balcony or windows scream, shout, clap, whatever you feel most comfortable with for essential key workers needed to support everyone, which includes:

  • Supermarket workers
  • Delivery people for food, gas and oil
  • Engineers for gas and electric
  • Thames Water people
  • Transport for London staff
  • Ambulance crews
  • Nurses and doctors
  • Police

Anyone I’ve forgotten I apologise now, but seriously run out of ideas. You heroes keep Britain rocking.”

Vicky and I’ll be out there. You betcha!

Wednesday 25th March 2020

Daily Diary: Graciousness in Accepting a Difficult and Generous Offer

It’s a beautiful spring day, with blue skies and the beginnings of sunshine that feels warm. I had trouble sleeping last night, at least for a while, and I think it may be to do with the anxiety and frustration I’ve been experiencing with online ordering. Ocado takes fifteen minutes to even get to their website. Tesco has neither a delivery slot nor an opportunity to collect from its specified stores. Morrisons have no delivery slots and have folded up the customer collect service they were advertising only a few days ago. Sainsbury’s have excluded newly registered customers. No joy with Asda either. It means that if Vicky and I want fresh food and household essentials we’ll have to do it in person and break the security isolation confers on us, both personally and as members of a wider community trying to protect itself.

I feel like a rock blenny – one of those cute little fish you come across if you’re pottering around the seashore – tucked away in a wee crack on the seabed, safe, snug and secure. That is until I have to feed, and maybe gather the fish equivalent to toilet paper, at which point I become exposed to the forces of natural selection. I’ve seen it in more David Attenborough documentaries than immediately come to mind and now, shit, it’s happening to me!

My wee crack on the seabed is in actuality a sofa I can stretch right out on, and it’s there, snugly, with a cup of Colombian coffee, freshly ground and scrupulously filtered, as if I’m demonstrating in a science lesson to twelve-year-olds, that I’m watching Prime Minister’s Questions on BBC Two. It’s an extra-long one as Parliament is about to go on leave. Boris Johnson is asked twice about the problem Vicky and I happen to be encountering and he doesn’t answer it, other than bumbling on about volunteers and elderly people being looked after. He’s clearly totally out of touch with people’s real-life problems and comes across as not wanting to emotionally engage. Putting it more simply he doesn’t seem to care. He’s equally equivocal about non-key workers. He abrogates leadership and leaves it to the employers to decide. It’s particularly an issue with the construction industry, but far from exclusively so. It’s mixed messaging and when I listen to LBC afterwards there’s phone call after phone call from deeply upset members of the public.

The other big issue is the lack of routine testing for Covid-19, even for NHS staff. It’s like we’re trying to navigate in fog, but we’re totally lost because we couldn’t be arsed to recharge the battery on the GPS.

Our daughter Emily gives us a call on and makes Vicky and I an offer. She is shopping for her husband Tom and herself and she’s volunteered to shop for her stalwart neighbour, Metzi. She’ll shop for us too. There is that inner instinct as ageing parents to resist such offers, but she really wants to and there is a graciousness, I believe, in accepting generosity, as there is in providing it. It does answer unspoken prayers, preserves our isolation and is very kind. It also takes us out of the frame of becoming numbers in the stats tables when the pandemic peaks, as it’s expected to soon. In a darkly nerdy way I’ve been following the grim stats, especially since starting this diary project. I figure we’ll be where Spain is now on April 3rd, and Italy, April 6th.

Frightening stuff!

But having said that, it is the biggest, most epic event in all our lives. It’s actually hard to tell if we are in a war with nature, or with all those aspects of our collective selves that choose to deny it.

Outside the front window is Plumstead Common. Sometimes it’s hard to resist watching people doing the many things they do on commons (I still have a copy of Desmond Morris’s ‘Manwatching’ on my bookshelf). At the weekend things were worrying – groups in close proximity, hugging, kissing, high-fiving and so on.

Now people are going around in ones and twos.

The buses passing the other side of the green are either empty or close to being so.

Behaviour has changed.

The Bigger Picture: A Close-Run Thing.

“This is going to be a close-run thing,” England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Witty declares.

Best estimates give the UK a three-week race to buy time for the NHS. Images of overwhelmed intensive care units in Italy still haunt people’s minds. The battle to keep the virus at bay has been lost. Now the country has to engage in the battle of its containment.

As if to show there is no limit to Covid’s reach Prince Charles, 71, the heir to the British throne, tested positive for the coronavirus. He and his wife, Camilla are isolating themselves in Scotland. It’s been about a fortnight since he last saw the Queen and even longer since he met with the PM.

The UK has a number of factors working against it – being at a global crossroads (the borders are still open), the wrong demographics, including the vulnerability that countries with older populations are now known to have, and a government that has been slow to act. But at present there is a lot of goodwill in the British population, as demonstrated by 405,000 volunteers signing up to support the NHS during the coronavirus outbreak. The volunteer programme was only launched on Tuesday, and will see people called on to deliver medicine, food, or to contact people who are alone.

Bill Gates, who has long had a philanthropic interest in supporting research into epidemics, said the best-case scenario is six to ten weeks of total isolation.

It will take a lot of good will to achieve anything near that. The British lockdown isn’t as strict as others. Behavioural experts say that any measures from government will require the consent of three quarters of the population to work.

So it needs nurturing and there are signs that some ministers are aware of that fact. Communities secretary Robert Jenrick announced all council car parking would be made free for NHS and social care staff. Those who petitioned for this very practical step are delighted by the success of their campaign. Transport secretary said MOT tests would be suspended for six months, while Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham welcomed a £5 million package to pay for 1,000 rooms to house the homeless.

Worries remain among the public. In London, although those travelling on the Underground were much fewer – 88 percent less year on year – services had reduced by a similar order of magnitude, exacerbated by workers in self-isolation. The result was rammed carriages and crowded platform and egg on the face of Transport for London along with news and social media feasting on the troubling spectacle.

Not all bosses are benign about their workforces as they consider the economic impact of lockdown. Some still pressurise their employees to come in regardless. “I’m pregnant and I have asthma but I was still being told to come into work.” Says one woman who requested to work from home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Generation rent, along with the long-term change from social housing to private landlords, face the anxiety that comes with uncertainty about eventual eviction with lost jobs meaning lost rent.

All of these fears and certainty are contributing to the fact that we’re facing not just coronavirus, but a mental health epidemic too. Some fear they’ll never touch their loved ones again, others looking at their own mortality in the eye.

In spite of that the Coronavirus Bill, giving minsters extensive emergency powers is set for Royal Assent after the Lords approved it, and there was barely a murmur from a public, that a year ago was on the streets in the hundreds of thousands, against the handing of draconian powers to politicians with a poor track record of being trustworthy. The Commons rose for an early Easter recess, with Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg hinting it may not return on April 21st as planned.

While the culture war surrounding Britain’s relationship with the European Union has been consigned to political backwaters, the latest skirmish about extending the transition period and avoiding a No Deal being something that happened on the sidelines.

For now, most are willing to put politics aside and show solidarity with those in the front line. Following moving scenes for Italy and then Spain and as part of a phenomenon that will spread worldwide, across the Britain Clap for Carers round of applause will honour the NHS tomorrow, Thursday 26th March at 8 pm.

Across the pond a ray of sunshine beams through the dark, heavy clouds of the coronastorm. The Senate and the Trump administration agreed early this morning on a roughly $2 trillion stimulus bill to help the US economy weather Covid-19, including $250 billion of direct support to workers. There had been hope from the Democrats during the much wrangling in Congress that climate change control measures could be built into the package but Mr Trump threatened to veto any measure with such provisions included. It didn’t happen. Nor did the bill include $3 billion for the government to buy oil and fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a provision sought by Republicans and President Trump.

The negotiations might have been convoluted – frustratingly so, but in fairness, they were tough. To all intents and purposes American businesses were being triaged. Which industries deserved a lifeline, and which should be left to succumb in changed market forces? Questions like to what extent do airlines need supporting and does the cruise industry deserve a bailout?

Global markets rose today on the news, following a major rally on Wall Street. President Trump, despite concerns from health experts that it would result in unnecessary deaths, announces that he wants America open for business by Easter, April 12th. A Fox News host dubbed his plan “a great American resurrection.”

That might be hyperbole but the president is on a high.  A Gallup poll published yesterday shows Mr Trump’s overall approval rating is at its highest point in his presidency, at 49 per cent. Sixty per cent of Americans gave him positive reviews for his handling of the coronavirus situation.

At this early stage of the pandemic Americans are blaming the virus, rather than him.

At least for now.

It typifies what many western nations are facing. Like reaching for the credit card when the debit card would be denied paying the bill.

Can governments protect jobs and markets? No one knows for sure. The size of the debt is unprecedented in almost everyone’s lifetime, being compared to the aftermath of the Second World War. How they set about doing it is equally unclear at the moment, but one thing’s for sure – a recession is on the way. As the whole world enters a new era of sovereign-debt management.

Central banks are already buying up large quantities of government debt as if it’s the hottest commodity in town. A weak recovery could push central banks to finance large fiscal deficits with freshly printed cash on an ongoing basis. With most of the world in debt and with a need to restimulate economies coming out of the pandemic a massive paradigm shift about international finance may well be on its way.

It may go as far as the core belief of indefinite growth at the heart of the world economic system being turned on its head. With climate change looming that might be timely.

But the stark fact for now is that businesses at all levels face deep uncertainty. In many cases their individual crises, from small one-person enterprises to large organisations, are existential. And there’s nothing quite like an existential crisis for making someone fight their corner, come what may. Although the goodwill is mostly there at the moment, the seeds are being sown for possibly the greatest leitmotif of the whole pandemic, especially in free market democracies – what comes first, healthcare or business?

A profound culture war is establishing its roots, with hundreds of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars at stake.

Not everyone appears to see it coming.

Some do:

“This is probably unprecedented. It’s bleak.”

Says Greg Wawro, professor of political science, Columbia University.

If anything, that’s an understatement.

It seems that the more humanity tries to retreat into narrow, infection-free habitats, so it withdraws from reaching out. The global space industry among the first to be hit hard, launches stopped, missions put on ice and entire companies shut down for the foreseeable future. When you consider that America could manage to put a man on the Moon at the height of being involved in what seemed like at the time to be the all-consuming war in South East Asia, the contrast is striking.

Instead our collective ingenuity turns inward and focuses on a spiky little point seven millionths of a millimetre across. Billionaire James Dyson takes up designing and building hospital ventilators. A 3D printing unicorn, Carbon, switches from trainer soles and dentures to nasal swabs and facemasks for healthcare workers. A number of other 3D printing companies are making similar moves, demonstrating how rapidly adaptive this young technology is. Engineering researchers are also stepping up to the mark with a joint team from Oxford University and Kings College London awaits government approval to manufacture the OxVent, a flat-pack ventilator that could save thousands of lives from coronavirus.

Even companies that have been successful in adapting to the pandemic are not without problems, though. The increased activity in at least ten Amazon distribution centres in the US becomes a factor in them becoming local hot spots, where staff have tested positive for coronavirus. The company says it will step up its cleaning efforts, but it is reminder that what has become known as ‘the frontline’ goes beyond health, social care and transport workers and a reminder about how vulnerable our infrastructure can be.

It’s that vulnerability that magnifies every glimmer of hope. So that when the coronavirus ‘finger-prick’ test for antibodies ‘available in days’ is described as a ‘game-changer,’ it misleads, as it can only show if someone’s been infected, as opposed to the swab or PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test which detects the virus itself. Equally, following patients’ physical discomfort with swab tests, and even horrific misinformation about swabs entering the brain via the nose, the news that patients might be able to self-administer, with the bonus of saving healthcare workers from the risk of exposure, the fact that self-testing is likely to lead to false negatives because the average person is not especially skilled at showing swabs up their noses (it’s hard to find non-medical examples, even as a fetish) and other amateur procedural slip-ups are quietly passed by.

But it’s only human to live in hope. It springs eternal, as the saying goes.

So when Professor Sharon Peacock, Director of Science for Public Health England, announces that three and a half million coronavirus tests have been bought and would be available in the ‘near future,’ Chief Medical Officer, Chris Witty later cautioned the test was not something “that you will be suddenly ordering on the internet next week.”

As if to demonstrate Covid-19’s relentlessness India has become the latest country to go into lockdown in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19. It means 1.3 billion people must stay in their homes for three weeks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi acknowledged that the lockdown would create “a very difficult time for poor people,” in a country where hundreds of millions are destitute, have no safety net and face ruin.

Enforcement is often brutal and in the era of smartphones doesn’t escape our countless, collective, additional eyes. Multiple videos have been captured of police giving anyone they catch on the roads beatings to be remembered, including doctors trying to reach hospitals, delivery men and people looking for food. The ban also includes all religious services, regardless of faith.

Neighbouring Pakistan is not so draconian. It currently has many more cases of Covid-19, with a large religious gathering in Lahore and the return of Shia pilgrims from Iran as causes of widespread infection, but the government was astute enough to work through its Islamic faith communities, urging imams to discourage collective worship, suggesting that the faithful pray at home instead.

Somehow, lockdown in my neck of the woods feels less severe and there’s a connectivity to make the experience of entering the new reality more palatable.

Here are some examples:

  • Nerd immunity: In coronavirus lockdown, sports fans turn to video-gaming contests. E sports players are reaching huge audiences from their homes. Conventional sports bosses want to do the same.
  • Joe Wicks becomes the nation’s PE teacher, giving stir-crazy children at 9 am on weekdays his free online PE sessions. Toddlers to grandparents get involved.
  • Britons confined in their homes are warned by Ofcom to avoid using microwaves to boost their internet speed.
  • Comedian Lee Mack is self-isolating and can’t escape an endless torrent of jokes about him Not Going Out.
  • BBC News has suspended plans to cut 450 jobs as it faces demands of covering the pandemic. It has already delayed the end of the free TV licence scheme for all over-75s.
  • Many restaurants have stopped dining room service and are only doing delivery. For a number the fear about take-out food not being safe remains.
  • There are fears too that some animals will die because shelters are struggling due to Covid-19.
  • While playing on the insecurities that the pandemic brings, hundreds of e-commerce sites are popping up to sell products that they claim help fight the coronavirus, and many of them are being shut down for making exaggerated claims, or selling phantom goods.

Across the pond the new reality is similar, yet different.

  • About 60 per cent of the country’s new confirmed cases of the coronavirus were in New York City metropolitan area. Such is the concern about New York being a high-risk area that Vice President Mike Pence has advised people who have passed through or left the city recently to place themselves in a 14-day quarantine.
  • Recently closed hospitals are now being reopened in preparation for a surge of coronavirus patients.
  • The first small clinical trial of chloroquine shows that the drug shows no benefit. President Trump’s recent declaration that it could be an effective medication against Covid-19 resulted in a mad rush on the medication, to the loss of those needing it for other conditions such as malaria, amoebic dysentery and lupus.
  • Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the Great Smoky Mountains national parks were closed, after concerns about crowding.
  • Coronavirus fears are causing a run on firearms and ammunition and there are more first-time buyers in stores. “People who were anti-gun their whole lives are now making purchases,” says one seller.
  • As state governments curb commerce, cannabis dispensaries are generally being categorised as essential – listed alongside pharmacies as too important to close. Even recreational retailers are remaining open.

More locally, I get three messages. The first is from Tesco, the supermarket I do most grocery shopping at:

Safety for everyone: Social distancing

Floor marking in our car parks will help you to maintain safe distances when queueing. Where necessary, we will limit the flow of people coming into our stores to ensure they don’t get too congested. Hand sanitisers are being placed around our stores for customers and colleagues to use, as well as extra cleaning products to wipe down your trolley or basket. In some stores, we will introduce directional floor markings and signage, to create a safe flow around the store. New floor markings will help you to keep a safe distance from others while waiting to pay. We are installing protective screens at our checkouts. Where possible, we will create separate entrances and exits to our stores, so that it’s easier to keep a safe distance from other shoppers.

Supporting our colleagues

We are fully supporting our team of more than 300,000 Tesco colleagues, many of , many of whom will be affected by this situation personally or will need to care for their own loved ones. The countless messages of gratitude I’ve received are testament to the incredible job they are doing, at a time when our stores have never been busier. Your small gestures and kind words really do go a long way.

We have almost 3,000 colleagues over the age of 70 and we are fully supporting them, as well as our vulnerable and pregnant colleagues, with 12 weeks’ fully paid absence. Colleagues who are in isolation are receiving full pay from their first day of absence, so that nobody finds themselves in a situation where they have to work when unwell. To help support our team, we’re recruiting an additional 20,000 temporary colleagues. We’ve already appointed 12,500 new colleagues, but we will need more. We are also bringing in 8,000 new colleagues in driving roles, and we’re training them as fast as we can.

Requests from customers

Please check your store’s opening times in advance. Before you leave home, please bring enough bags for your shop. If it’s raining don’t forget an umbrella too, in case you need to queue outside the store. Try to shop with no more than one other person, which will help to reduce the number of people in-store at any one time. Please use our cleaning stations to wipe your trolley, basket or Scan as you Shop handset. If possible, use card or contactless payments. Please avoid shopping during our dedicated times for vulnerable and elderly people and NHS workers, and be kind to our colleagues as they’re working hard to serve you; we’re all in this together.

The second is from my nearest Toyota dealer:

Toyota (Jemca):

In light of the current coronavirus situation, our number one priority is the safety and well-being of all employees, customers and suppliers, Jemca will be closing from Tuesday 24th March until further notice and advice from the Government. However, we will endeavour to ensure emergency workers and NHS staff are kept mobile if their vehicle is off the road. Sorry for any inconvenience that this may cause but it is essential we follow the guidelines for everyone’s wellbeing.

The third is from my local Nextdoor group:

Hello everyone. I offer online Italian lessons for children and adults for different purposes. If interested please contact me on [Number] Thank you. Tiziana.

For a moment I’m tempted to learn Italian.

It doesn’t last.

Tuesday 24th March 2020

Daily Diary: The World Turns Upside Down

How quickly everything seems to change! The realities of lockdown begin to subtly creep in but outside the coronavirus story is huge – far too big for a modest personal journal like this. As I continue to record my newsfeed, I see a tsunami of stories. Some remind me of how lucky I am with relatively few problems to worry about. I get a text from a fellow pilot, Cosmin Burian, wishing Vicky and I well. So thoughtful. His work wiring up networks in large office buildings doesn’t look particularly secure at a time of pandemic and his charming wife Monica is an NHS nurse making the daily journey from Rochester to London. Both children, now young adults, at university. So much more to be concerned about and I’m truly touched.

James O’Brien’s main topic of conversation on LBC today is Brits trapped abroad. The Emirates have closed their airspace to all traffic. Several airport hubs have had to all intents and purposes shut down. Not all embassies and consulates are available, and some are on lockdown themselves. Travel companies and airlines have pretty much washed their hands of travellers’ problems. To be fair, many of them are already crumbling under the onslaught of Covid-19 and not up to dealing with their own problems, let alone those to whom they ought to at the very least showing due care and diligence, leaving countless dramatic tales of strangers in strange lands across the world. The government needs to lay on more rescue flights to extract and bring them home but we’re hearing nothing from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Maybe the story hasn’t quite made it sufficiently up the pile to be broadcast on MSM.

It was hard issuing the ban on flying at out club’s sites, but it was timely. Today there is a message from the Sky Surfing Club in Hampshire that they have done the same, as have the Dunstable Hang Gliding and the Thames Valley clubs. There’s lots of support from club members, who certainly get the point.

It looks like ‘doing the right thing’ is returning to our collective mentality.

The Bigger Picture: It’s War!

It’s war!

“We’re at war with the virus,” Scott Morrison, prime minister of Australia declared.

“There’s a long war ahead and our Covid-19 response must adapt,” a former CDC director tells CNN.

“Prepare now for the long war against Covid-19. Fighting the surprise attack should not distract us from the lasting battle.” Richard Danzig writes in Bloomberg.

So off we march.

Like all crusades the rival factions of science and business, of the state versus private capital, of the collective against the individual, of the cautious and the bold (the enemy would say foolhardy) go to war with each other every bit as much as they lock horns with the enemy.

The Wall Street Journal champions business. No society can safeguard public health for long at the cost of its overall economic health, the WSJ argues. Resources to fight the virus aren’t limitless and the cost of this national shutdown will soon cause a “tsunami of economic destruction” that will cause tens of millions to lose their jobs.

We don’t have enough data about the disease’s fatality rate to be making such drastic economic sacrifices, John Ioannides, a Stanford epidemiology professor adds. But in a pandemic, where mortality evidence has an unpleasant habit of revealing itself exponentially do we seriously hang around for data before making a decision?

Some, like David Katz in the New York Times suggest isolating the most vulnerable – the elderly, people with chronic diseases and the immunologically compromised. By keeping a smaller portion of the population at home, he contends, most could return to life as usual and prevent the economy from collapsing.

It has a tidiness about it.

But it’s not like that. Remember this is war. And war is ultimately chaotic.

Perhaps, God forbid, next time round this could be part of the plan, but any commander will tell you that grand manoeuvres at the height of battle are a recipe for disaster. A group of Yale health experts said in response that such ideas were naïve, not least because we have no real way of identifying, separating and caring for such a large segment of the population.

The precautionary principle champions science. The idea that millions could be allowed to perish to save an economy is both morally irresponsible and practically inconceivable. It’s a trade-off that is as gruesome as it is absurd. Science is evidence based and the evidence shows that more social distancing measures are needed to prevent more Covid-19 cases, overburdened hospitals and deaths.

Body counts don’t help in winning wars. Unless, of course you’re indifferent to them. If you take the attitude that there’s plenty more where they came from you might believe you can. It takes a certain mindset. Some would call it sociopathy.

President Trump’s getting cranky. He’s adopted a more serious tone towards the virus. He’s made concessions to public health and all he’s got back in return is skyrocketing unemployment, a volatile Wall Street, headaches from the House and Senate and his MAGA base defying and grumbling about the restrictions all the time.

It’s an election year and he’s fully aware there’s a pattern: no American president gets re-elected if a recession happens on their watch. He’s the good-for-the-economy president, even if the groundwork was done by the previous, maligned Obama administration. He has managed to create the sleight of hand – to some extent at least – an illusion it was entirely due to his leadership and no way was he going to let Covid-19 get the better of that!

It’s time to play down the threat again.

“I gave it two weeks,” he said in a town hall hosted by Fox News, adding, “We can socially distance ourselves and go to work.”

He’s been warned that strict social distancing measures could be necessary for many months. Relaxing restrictions on travel and large gatherings could greatly increase the virus’s death toll.

But it’s water on a duck’s back.

“If it were up to the doctors, they’d say shutdown the entire world,” he scoffed in response.

The president wants the US opened up and “raring to go by Easter,” on April 12th.

On Sunday night he tweeted,


Reopening the economy sooner rather than later in the face of a rising death toll makes it clear what side he’s on and on the other it brings outrage, including triggering a Twitter backlash with a #NotDying4WallStreet campaign.

But there is a war on and we all should expect casualties …

Governor Cuomo of New York declares the city has 25,000 coronavirus cases and the rate of new infections is doubling every three days. There’s a call for anyone who has left New York recently to self-quarantine for 14 days, with new infection hotspots on Long Island indicating that people leaving the city are already spreading the virus.

We should expect some to lay down their lives …

Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas has suggested that he and “lots of grandparents” would be willing to risk death from coronavirus in order to prevent the US economy from tanking under the weight of social distancing measures that he fears will impact his grandchildren and lead to the “loss” of America.

There are echoes here of the proud ‘gerry battalions’ in Alan Sillitoe’s novel, “Travels in Nihilon,” where the elderly are sent to the front, being the most expendable.

We should expect casualties from friendly fire …

An Arizona a man died and his wife was hospitalised after officials said they self-medicated, using a fish tank additive that contains chloroquine, the same active ingredient as an anti-malarial drug promoted by the president.

We should expect people’s roles to change, to adapt to the coronawar’s new reality …

In the same way as a military war puts more people into uniforms of sand, green and grey so factory overalls are replaced by delivery drivers’ outfits. The coronavirus crisis is already reshaping the job market, with aerospace and other manufacturers laying off workers, while grocery stores and online delivery services, are desperately scrambling to hire staff to service a shuttered world.

We do need to be mindful of crisis we’re in …

Governor Gavin Newsom estimated that California would be short of about 17,000 hospital beds, although the state is trying to source more. The pace of testing there remains stubbornly slow.

Elon Musk ships 1,200 ventilators from China to Los Angeles, while Ford is going from cars to healthcare as they start a partnership with 3M and GE Healthcare to produce essential medical supplies, including ventilators and personal protective equipment.

The Purchasing Managers’ Index presages a precipitous recession in America and Europe. Manufacturing has been given a kicking, but services have been knocked around the block with a baseball bat. It’s a global economic catastrophe and the grasshopper economies such as Britain that have outsourced making stuff and had services as the cornerstone of creating moolah, a legacy of free market economics and at the time the jolliest of wheezes find the wintry coronavirus particularly harsh.

Central banks in wealthier countries commit to do whatever they can to keep national economies from collapsing, primarily by buying debt. Stimulus packages from governments are necessary to keep economies moving. It’s not just patients – nations are in intensive care, political anxiety is palpable and those with most of a handle on the world economic order are at a loss to know how to deal with the conflict between capital and preserving the lives of the most vulnerable.

It was always so, only the coronavirus brings this ugly fact of life to the surface. Some, like Trump, take sides with capital and play games to feign their social responsibility. Some, like the Swedes, in a matter-of-fact way grasp the reality and through a social contract between the people and their government reach an uneasy settlement. Some, like the New Zealanders, come clean about the problem and embrace the consequences of the precautionary principle. Some, like Johnson equivocate, dither and dawdle, ever reactive, ever conscious of the optics of the day.

In Washington the Senate nears deal on virus relief package. Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, said he expected to have an agreement this morning with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on nearly $2 trillion economic package to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats blocked action on the plan on Monday, demanding stronger protection for workers and restrictions on bailed out businesses, but headway has since been made.

Like a patient in ICU responding to extra oxygen the stock market rallied.

While overwhelmed by what can only be described as a tsunami of reality the presidential campaign, that would have so dominated American politics were it not for Covid-19 has faded into oblivion.

Both for now at least.

We know war for the carnage it creates …

In Europe, although Italy’s death toll rose by a shocking 743, it was after two days of decline. But it’s Spain where the nightmare is happening now. There are visions of horrors that you could be forgiven for associating with the middle ages. The army has found people’s corpses in their homes. Elderly care home residents are found dead, abandoned in their beds, the staff beyond coping. Madrid’s hospitals that are on the verge of collapse, their mortuaries massively beyond capacity. Funeral homes have no space or resource to continue collecting the dead, so now the Palacio de Hielo , the huge ‘Ice Palace’ ice rink, is transformed into the capital’s morgue. Frontline workers. like cashiers and cleaners continue to work without protection and information phone lines on coronavirus are saturated.

Madrid is an outbreak epicentre in meltdown.

It spells out the horrors that could arise anywhere. Those in already overcrowded refugee camps around Europe’s Mediterranean fringe are particularly vulnerable are especially fearful – if the virus breaks out there it would be impossible to stop.

However, there are signs that the coronawar is winnable. In Wuhan, China, where the outbreak started, and infections now appear to be dwindling, public transport will resume within 24 hours and residents will be allowed to leave the city beginning April 8th.

The measures taken by the Chinese state have been harsh but it looks like they’ve worked.

There could be light at the end of the tunnel.

If only the west could be strict with itself, that is.

South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan have all shown that the virus can be brought under control without the draconian restrictions on movement in China, or the economically damaging lockdown in the Europe and America.

At the heart of a less draconian response is an approach with two elements. The first is that the state has to be systematic and organised. That’s necessary for swift, safe and widespread testing, tracing and isolating including those who had confirmed contact with infected patients.

Of all western countries Germany stands out and has managed to control the virus better than its neighbours as a result.

The second is that the citizens trust the country’s leadership, engage with the decisions it makes and show high levels of co-operation. If the exercise of force and coercion by the state are not options, as is the case in Europe and the Anglosphere, then a partnership with the public becomes the only means of achieving that end, something that has been undermined by the misinformation campaigns at the heart of national leadership, both in Trump’s America and Brexit Britain. Years of creating near-tribal partisanship makes not trusting government – any government – an inevitable outcome.

Which brings us back to the rival factions within the coronavirus crusade and enables a quasi-living nanobeastie with as many genes in all as humans have for eye colour alone to divide, and for now at least, conquer.

That said, and in spite of the deep divisions that have cleft British politics for the past four years, Boris Johnson actually sets the country off on the Great British Lockdown buoyed up by an unprecedented reservoir of good faith. A record 27 million people watched the PM’s live televised address and a poll showed a huge 93% of the public supported what were by UK standards, the most restrictive measures since the end of the Second World War.

For the next three weeks at least, after initially resisting restrictions on people’s movements and activities, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reluctantly set aside his libertarian ideology and brought Britain into alignment with lockdowns across Europe, closing off all nonessential shops and requiring people to stay in their homes, except for trips for food or medicine. Couples who don’t live together should either avoid each other completely or move in together for the duration of the coronavirus crisis and anyone found by police to have breached the lockdown conditions faced a £30 fine. The sum could be increased ‘significantly’ if necessary, to ensure public compliance. In time it will be, with penalties running into thousands.

The British government has added clauses requiring Parliament to vote every six months to renew the powers in the coronavirus bill and provide protections for the religious burial after lobbying from opposition MPs and backbench Conservatives.

The Contingencies Fund Bill – to pay for the Treasury’s wage support scheme – proposes a “modest” increase in the size of the UK’s Contingencies Fund – from 2% to 50%.

A quarter of a million volunteers are called for to help support the NHS through the pandemic. The Health Secretary called for healthy volunteers who can help care for vulnerable people and ease pressure on public services. Many come forward, including Labour MP Nadia Whittome returning to work as a carer to help system ‘in crisis during a pandemic.’ The MP said she is ‘genuinely worried that the social care system is going to fall apart at the seams in this Covid-19 pandemic.

The Department of Health came under fire after sending mixed messages to women over the possibility of allowing abortions at home during the coronavirus outbreak and a petition goes out against NHS staff to pay parking fees – and fines if they don’t – at the hospitals where they work.

If it was 1940 I’m sure there would have been posters and leaflets telling me my marching orders. Sixty years later it comes to me via social media, as ninety per cent of my life seems to do these days:

Transport for London: Thank you to those of you who are following the Government and the Mayor’s instructions not to travel unless your journey is absolutely essential. To save lives we must all do more. This means following the Government’s new measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus by staying at home. You are only allowed to leave your house in these circumstances:

Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.

  • One form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk or cycle – alone or with members of your household.
  • Any medical need, or to provide care for or to help a vulnerable person.
  • Travelling to and from work, but only when this absolutely cannot be done from home.

Making non-essential journeys risks lives.  Please only travel if your journey is absolutely essential.

If you are a key worker and your journey is absolutely essential, please travel later in the day if you can and avoid the early morning.

If you do travel, follow the expert advice on hand-washing and other health measures. We are operating reduced services so we can keep things running for critical workers.

Be safe, stay at home

It’s followed by a more local message about social behaviour in Oxleas Woods near Eltham:

Hi all. I hope you’re all keeping well. Sorry to moan on a Sunday, though I’ve just returned from Oxleas Woods and wanted to make some pleas so all can enjoy.

  1. Respect social distancing. If a family are by a tree/camp don’t crowd around them, either move to another or wait.
  2. Keep dogs on a leash as you are supposed to at the moment.
  3. Pick your dog’s mess up….
  4. Runners, politely ask people to step aside …. Don’t just run past them only leaving half a metre spacing whilst breathing heavily/sweating….

If we can all abide by these [rules] I’m sure we can all enjoy.

Again, sorry for the Sunday grumble.

Stay safe.

A strange warning about lockdown opportunists (although they probably didn’t need a lockdown to try to pull this one off):

Scamming beware: I can’t believe it. I’ve just been watching the news and there are a lot of people being offered a driveway cleansing service. These people are sick. I’ve been doing exterior cleaning for over ten years and have never heard of driveway cleansing. Please don’t fall for it, it is disgraceful. If anyone would like some exterior property cleaning give me a call and I will look after you. I am not trying to profit from this. I have let staff go due to social distancing and have enough work already but I will work all hours to stop these parasites. BE aware and stay safe, people.

But everything’s by no means on the spectrum between corona-carelessness and corona-criminality. There’s korona-kindness too with many acts of altruism, as a young woman offers on Nextdoor:

Free online English Literature tutoring: Hi all, I’m an English Literature graduate from Durham University, now working from home with plenty of spare time! I’m happy to offer video tutoring to anyone who would benefit from it. I can support with GCSE or A-level texts and essay writing, to setting English tasks for younger kids and keeping them reading. I’ve not tutored via the internet before but happy to give it a go!

A Nextdoor Help Map has come out too.  On this interactive map, those in need can easily identify which neighbours have raised a helping hand nearby. Neighbours who are available to help can indicate on the map, making it easy to locally network help and support.

The last of the non-essential store chains, after an attempted rear-guard action by Sports Direct, shuts up shop – literally. Life is changing indelibly.

BP sends me an email:

For those that have to travel our pumps and retail sites will continue to be as clean and safe environment to visit and work in. But we need to work together to minimise the spread of Covid-19, so we ask that everyone respects ‘social distancing’ guidelines set out by the Government, washes their hands frequently and thoroughly and makes payment by contactless card or mobile app as much as possible. Our BPme app also lets you pay for your fuel from your vehicle, minimising any contact when you fill up.

As does Alzheimer’s Society, one of the charities Vicky and I support:

Under government advice, men and women in the UK over 70 – that’s around 700,000 people with dementia – will be asked to stay at home for an extended period of time. People will be completely cut off from their families, their communities and the networks they rely on. People who live alone may be cut off from social contact completely.

It’s that carpet-bombing by online messaging that doesn’t let me escape the fact that there’s a coronawar. Vicky and I are in it and we’re well and truly locked down. If we were asked to duck and cover, we’d almost certainly do it – so long as we were asked nicely, of course.

We are among the ninety-three percenters. The almost universal compliers.

Which is just as well as the police are warning there ‘aren’t enough officers to police each street’ during lockdown. Police forces are depending on the public to follow the new rules to avoid extra strain on already stretched services and while there are things we wonder about, like whether we can walk our dog to the allotment or get our haircut we’re willing (for now) to go along with the strictest curbs on our way of life in modern peacetime.

The lockdown is bringing out our humanity. In some cases, it is generosity. Rihanna’s Foundation gives £4.2 million to coronavirus relief efforts, including supporting marginalised communities in the US, Caribbean and Africa.

In some cases, it is selfishness. Along with toilet rolls and hand-gel, there has been panic-buying of sanitary products, leaving the more vulnerable without access to tampons.

In some cases, it is a re-appreciation of the simple things in life:

I’m finding comfort in Sonic the hedgehog who visits my garden. This small fascinating creature, this endangered creature, is unaffected by the disruption we’re facing.

In some, it is love turning to commitment, as couples take the leap of faith to move in with each other.

My boyfriend moved in six weeks ago and is now home-schooling my son. Amid uncertainty, I’m clinging on to one fact: if we can get through this, we can get through anything.

For some it’s an opportunity to be creative and get the max out of online connectivity with virtual parties. Virtual club nights, pub quizzes and surprise deliveries.

And for many religious people, for whom collective worship and shared rituals are central to their faith and sense of community these are really testing times. For many older worshippers adapting to virtual prayer is entering a world alien to their faith. This is a resurgence of the age-old tension between tradition and innovation.

Most smokers do not give up their habit. The combination of boredom and frustration doesn’t help. It’s pretty intuitive to believe that because of the harm smoking causes to general lung health it will slow down recovery and recent studies bear that out. Rationally, now would be the time to quit, but the instant relief a cigarette gives sadly wins out too many times.

Further afield, the Syrian government reports their first case of Covid-19, although in the festering chaos of an aftermath of civil war, no one knows for sure what’s going on. Over 80 per cent of the medical infrastructure in Syria is working at a limited capacity and Covid-19 testing kits are more than hard to come by.

In India there is “a total ban of coming out of your own homes” for three weeks. For a population of 1.3 billion souls.

And in Canada, parliament denies the Liberal government a carte blanche to spend, tax and borrow whatever it pleases to deal with the virus.

Most stories pass under the radar, as without a vaccine, a capacity to test, or even a particularly clear idea of where it’s going, Great Britain battens down the hatches, as do many other countries around the world.

Monday 23rd March 2020

Daily Diary: Clipped Wings and Scary Masks – How Lockdown Begins For Me.

It’s a milestone day and there is a heavy feel about it. Checking through my emails I see one from the Southern Hang Gliding Club declaring that their flying sites are closed, initially until June 21st. I must do the same for the Dover and Folkestone Hang Gliding Club. That has to be my priority for the day. I get a rapid response from the club committee, including an hour-long conversation with Nigel Gilbert, who’s the club treasurer and membership secretary. It is the socially responsible thing to do, and to be honest, it’s better to act before we’re instructed to.

This is the message I send out via email, WhatsApp and on the club’s Facebook page. It’s with a heavy heart, but it’s for the best:

Dear Member,

Following recent and developing Government announcements concerning Covid-19, your committee has come to the decision that it would be inappropriate to continue to fly from our sites at this time.

The committee believes that flying while the hospitals are under this degree of stress would be both cavalier, and perceived very poorly by the public in general, landowners in particular. You don’t need to have an accident to promote such a negative public perception of our much-loved sport. Other outdoor activities have already been the focus of criticism on mainstream media for being selfish and inconsiderate in recent days. It would be foolish and wrong to think that we would be an exception to this.

Furthermore, while flying is in itself an acceptably ‘socially distanced’ activity, driving to a site, rigging, chatting, retrieving etc, are not.

Consequently, to protect our access to and future enjoyment of free flying we hereby now close all Dover and Folkestone Hang Gliding Club sites for all aviation purposes until further notice.

DO NOT FLY at ANY of our sites until explicit notice is given by email, WhatsApp and our club Facebook page. Ground handling at any of our sites is also not to take place.

Two thirds of you have already paid your membership for 2020/21. In the light of these circumstances this will be extended until the renewal date in 2022.

These decisions will be reviewed frequently, and will be amended accordingly. For most of us our perception and consideration of the seriousness and far reaching implications of all the issues concerning Covid-19 has evolved with each passing day. That will continue into the foreseeable future.

We would remind pilots that flaunting this closure could easily cause us to lose sites. It would be selfish, inconsiderate and it’s in the face of wider public-spiritedness to act in such a way.

We are not alone in reaching this decision. The Southern Club has sent out the same message this morning.

Our activity binds us together by the freedom the skies bring to our lives and it is with great regret that such an announcement has to be made. We know and regret that everyone in the club will be deeply disappointed on a personal level. It was not an easy decision to make but it is an essential one.

With thoughts and best wishes for the many ways in which this Covid-19 pandemic is affecting everyone’s lives.


The Dover and Folkestone Club Committee

It’s with a degree of trepidation that I click on the ‘send’ button. Regardless of the good sense and pragmatic necessity of the message, and the fact that when all is said and done I’m little more than the messenger it’s still hard to be the one who poops the party. To paraglide is to experience an ultimate freedom that’s hard to articulate to most whose boots have not left the ground and to remove that cuts deep. I know everyone receiving the message shares that same feeling, some I think more than I do, so it’s with relief that generosity of spirit comes in the many responses I get.

There is such a thing as the common good and I see that today.

It’s not universal. I hear Shelagh Fogerty starting her programme on LBC with a damning condemnation of a group of middle-aged bikers. It’s seen as being selfish and childish. It’s carrying on until mum and dad tell you not to, as she puts it.

I send a pair of masks to Emily and Tom. I bought a small number online. They look a bit Darth Vaderish and in time we’ll all move on to masks that won’t frighten the living daylights out of children and small animals (not that we’re likely to come across either at the moment). But for now they will protect ourselves and others and we’re all committed to wear them.

I waste over an hour in a futile attempt to place an order with Morrison’s. I chose this supermarket because they have a ‘collect from store’ option. I build up my list only to then find there are no delivery slots. I contact the store about collection, but for some reason that option has dried up. I ring customer services for Morrison’s as a whole. All there is a pre-recorded message which amounts to, “Sorry, but you don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell.” Then the website crashes altogether.

Vicky and I did into our food reserves. We never expected it to be this soon.

Boris Johnson gives his long-awaited address to the nation. I don’t know what to make of either the man or the words that come out of his mouth. We’re in a grave situation and I have trouble believing his sincerity. So much we have witnessed about Johnson has been based on a performance. An act.

Boy who cried wolf.

Man who cried Covid.

Lockdown begins.

The Bigger Picture: It’s Changing The Ways We Live Our Lives

Hanami. The Japanese festival of cherry blossom, symbolising the beauty, fragility and transience of life. For over a thousand years people have celebrated Hanami, having picnics and parties beneath canopies of countless petals in delicate, subtle pink hues. So it was, with a heavy heart that Governor Yuriko Koike implored the good people of Tokyo not to continue the tradition this year. She said that it was like “taking hugs away from Italians.”

Coronavirus is changing the way we are living our lives.

In many ways.

Also in Japan, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo announces the 2020 Olympics will not be held and are likely to be delayed to 2021 at an estimated cost of $2.7 billion.

While Unity Hospital in Rochester, New York a pulmonologist messages his team:

“Talk to your kids now, because you won’t be seeing them for a stretch. Pack your bags. You will be sleeping at the hospital.”

There are only three Covid-19 patients in the hospital now but he expects that number will shoot up exponentially.

He’s right to do so.

Elsewhere, armies are mobilising against the coronavirus. Soldiers patrolling the streets, running hospitals, maintaining order and structure in society.

As, in the face of the British death toll from the disease jumping by 54 to 335, the second highest daily increase since the virus hit the country, PM Boris Johnson orders a ‘national emergency’ lockdown to order people to stay at home. It mirrors the stricter government measures we’ve seen in neighbouring Europe, such as the barring of public gatherings of more than two people, except for families in Germany. Johnsonism is a peculiar political creature somewhat akin to benign despotism. While the emergency Coronavirus Bill is passing its way through Parliament as a final act before an early break-up for Easter, is draconian in many respects, including forcibly quarantining Covid-19 patients, Johnson himself baulks at being personally responsible for draconian behaviour. So everything goes off delayed, half-cock or in a right muddle and he stands accused of mixed messaging.

But locking down is the only option. The government has all but abandoned developing testing in the wider community – it seems as though it would have been a struggle, and struggling was not something a government born from the spirit of can-do and chutzpah, even if it was about something completely different, was prepared to be seen doing. However, developing and deploying a test for the coronavirus is crucial. Without it no one knows what’s going on.

So in desperation, knowing the bad press the horror show of overwhelmed NHS ICU facilities would generate, lockdown’s all that’s left. It should prevent the spread of the virus, but that still doesn’t stop it from being a complicated solution and it’s not clear it will solve everything and it certainly brings fears and anxieties. Labour slammed the government for failing to include a full ban on evictions for renters. John Healey said the bill, “just gives them some extra time to pack their bag.”

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), who represent the self-employed and workers in the gig economy began legal action against the government over its failure to protect their members during the Covid-19 crisis. The IWGB argue that the current arrangements are “not only discriminatory and risk driving millions of workers into deeper poverty, but are also a major threat to public health,” since many ‘gig economy’ and self-employed workers will be forced to continue working while sick.

Britain’s rail network was effectively renationalised when transport secretary Grant Shapps suspended franchise agreements due to a collapse in passenger numbers and revenues during the outbreak.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab says Brits overseas should “return home now” to the UK while commercial flights are still an option.

And health secretary Matt Hancock revealed that 7,563 medical staff – doctors, nurses, midwives and others – have now responded to his call to return to our NHS to tackle the virus crisis.

In 2018 Boris Johnson declared his admiration for Donald Trump during a dinner party. It was all about what is understood by leadership, not just by Johnson himself, but how that vision of a leader was to be shared with those he would seek to elect him to high office. It was not about the serious job of taking responsibility and worrying through decisions for the betterment of all, as had in her own flawed but sincere way his predecessor Theresa May. It was about being the leader. Playing the part, in the style of classical heroes and Roman emperors, as Winston Churchill had done, and he perceived Donald J. Trump doing.

So, in the year of the pandemic, Trump does precisely that, presenting himself as a ‘Wartime President’ – a take-charge leader the country can’t afford to lose. It’s showmanship in the greatest gig on Earth and it might just about get him re-elected as ringmaster-in-chief.

First, he plays down the threat. Great leaders calm their subjects at times of great challenge. Denial in the face of the hard evidence of fellow Americans dying in a distinctly unpleasant way has a short shelf-life. Playing down doesn’t work with all but the most committed followers.

Part of the playing down involves shying away from federal action. The notorious deep state being seen to get involved, obstructing the great leader, so when Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York appealed on Sunday for the federal government to take over the distribution of critical goods, he declines. He will not commandeer private industry to rise to the challenge. That’s big state. Maybe even deep state and he counts instead on a market-driven response, which simply isn’t enough.

Next, he plays the part of ‘this is your captain speaking.’ President Trump is now holding daily news conferences, projecting leadership. This will be the defining issue of his presidency. There are eight months to November’s presidential election.

It starts to work. The polls show that a majority of Americans now approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis, up 12 points from the week before.

“Our goal is to get relief to Americans as quickly as possible, so that families can get by and small businesses can keep workers on the payroll,” Trump told reporters on Sunday, reading from prepared remarks.

It comes across as business-like. As leadership.

But the showman cannot help himself as he resorts to hyperbole and goes off-script, predicting a swift economic turnaround. A ‘pent-up demand’ will spur economic growth.

“This will help our economy,” he said of the rescue package, “and you will see this economy skyrocket once this is over.”

The major banks, however, are bracing themselves for some serious hard times. Exact calculations of the hit to GDP in the second quarter vary from 10 per cent from UBS to 24 per cent with Goldman Sachs. Bank of America and Deutsche Bank agree around 12 per cent. The word ‘collapse’ is being bandied around by economists. “Jobs will be lost, wealth will be destroyed and confidence depressed,” Bank of America’s US economist, Michelle Meyer, wrote in a note. Goldman Sachs put a figure to the surge in unemployment at 9 per cent.

“Global recession in 2020 is now our base case,” came a warning from Morgan Stanley, also predicting that global economic growth would slow to 0.9 per cent – the lowest seen since the 2008 crisis.

Deutsche Bank went further, both in gravity and time, with in their words, the coronavirus-driven declines set to “substantially exceed anything previously recorded going back to at least World War II,

But most of the economists at the big banks still predict the economy will rebound later in 2020, or by 2021 at the latest. Perhaps it is economic myopia that means there’s a shred of optimism there. Perhaps it is because the recession is triggered by a catastrophe, rather than a gear wheel that’s come off its bearings in the World economic order and wrecked the works, as happened in 2008. Perhaps in dark times there is a need for some optimism somewhere. And it’s needed with stocks on Wall Street dropping again as Washington remained deadlocked over a two trillion-dollar stimulus package to shore up the economy. The Fed declared its plans to buy as much government-backed debt as needed and start aggressive programmes to shore up businesses large and small but despite assurances from the Federal Reserve, stocks continued to fall today.

Meanwhile, Richard Branson appears to relent and dips deep to save ‘incredible employees’ with $250 million joint package.

And some are even hiring in these dark times. There’s a 2,736 per cent increase for ‘warehouse handler’ and Walmart adds 150,000 jobs.

Most, however, will be stuck at home. With time, probably kids and in need of a safety valve.

So what to do?

Some start tidying.

Some start exercising, encouraged by enthusiastic instructors on TV and You Tube. Learn from yoga trainer Barbara Currie that you are as young as your spine is flexible or the prisoner squat from Luke Worthington. Age is no excuse – so get to it!  

Some start making little occasions special, such as a “family date night” and getting the kids involved in gardening, the shed and other at-home activities.

Some get socialising with apps such as Zoom and Houseparty. Having virtual happy hours and games such as charades with friends

Some go travelling remotely – even opening up their own neighbourhoods as virtual travel destinations for others.

Some start developing dodgy obsessions:

“Working from home has made me obsessed with my colleagues’ living rooms. The coronavirus outbreak is suddenly giving people an unexpected chance to look inside the homes of their workmates.”

Some, like 42-year-old Amy, find they have to abandon theirs:

“Coronavirus made me end my affair – the sneaking around is far too risky. Social distancing due to the coronavirus outbreak has made it almost impossible to see my lover.”

In Liverpool early lockdown reveals ‘Scouse spirit’ by volunteers coming forward to sign up. Nearly 1,500 people in the city have signed up to help vulnerable people during the coronavirus outbreak.

The sense of community is like an echo from a simpler and less self-centred past. It even comes through is an email from my local Co-op:

“Dear Co-op Members and customers. Firstly, I hope you and your families are keeping well. The virus has quickly and unexpectedly taken its toll on all of us. My colleagues right across the business are doing an incredible job, working exceptionally hard through the day and night. In truth, none of us ever navigated our way through a challenge of this magnitude. What’s motivating and energising all of us right now is our passion for community and co-operation. So here’s how we’re putting that into action: Fundraising, Connecting Communities and Food Banks.”

It’s community and that sense of seeing each other through that’s come to matter.

Donald McNeil, an experienced reporter of epidemics, of the New York Times writes, “If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make [everyone] freeze in place for fourteen days while sitting six feet apart, epidemiologists say, the whole epidemic would splutter to a halt.”

There’s no denying that the near-total co-operation from the public matters, as has happened in countries like China and South Korea. It wasn’t just the authoritarian behaviour of their governments, but also the innate understanding from each and every member of society as a whole about the part they play.

Mistakes have been made. In China, by the time officials locked down Wuhan, a city of 11 million and this coronavirus had all the characteristics necessary to spread rapidly, it was too late. It had already played stowaway with countless air travellers and seeded itself around the world.

In the west both scientists and politicians should have learned from SARS, not swine flu. But maybe flu was an illness we could identify with, and SARS was just this bug from a far, faraway land in South East Asia.

Maybe we all need to learn that citizen, official or leader we need to have a lot more humility that we’re all capable of making a mistake.

And do something about it.

Cruise ships have long been known to have had outbreaks of infectious diseases. Air-transmitted viruses like influenza, measles, chickenpox, legionella, along with others like norovirus and E-coli. They have many people in close confinement for days on end, followed by people getting off the ship, mixing with people, getting back on board and a couple of days later doing the same again. I guess for the most part those diseases didn’t kill too many people, so little wonder then that the Diamond Princess and others became local epicentres.

Now, researchers are using the data from the people on board to learn more about the virus. It’ll be useful when you consider how much human activity happens for extended times in crowded, confined indoor spaces, where up until now few considered the spread of disease as being a critical factor. In forty years in schools, much in management, I must admit I didn’t think much about it.

Things like multiple New York prison inmates testing positive for coronavirus.

There is no preparation for the wildfire spread of a disease in a prison.

Because no one expected it.

So for all the furious pace research, for all the dedication of supercomputers – twelve in all, and all the hopes a vaccine will be found, maybe the biggest challenge is our own behaviour and the relationship between that and the political systems we have in place to meet Covid-19’s challenge head-on.

Sunday 22nd March 2020

Daily Diary: Feeling The Cold Light of Day

Having made the journey out to Kent yesterday and knowing it’s likely to be the last journey we’d make for a while, I see today as being the first day proper of self-isolation. There’s a ‘cold light of day’ feeling about the whole thing. Every foray beyond the house is going to be riskier than the last. My best guess is that figures for those testing positive for coronavirus probably reflect about one per cent of the real numbers. There are 41 new cases in the Borough of Greenwich, suggesting at least four thousand infections if that’s anything to go by.

I start the day with a routine. Go through the emails. Some are interesting and feed my Twitter account, and I get a similar number of Twitter notifications as I do emails – more if something I tweet or retweet gets traction. After an hour or so I go down and have a session on the rowing machine. Then a light breakfast, always including a filter coffee.

Some things start to become more important. Cleaning teeth has to be more thorough because a visit to the dentist might prove to be a chink in my social distancing armour. How we use provisions is important because a shop is a risky environment. I’ve just seen a clip of a young woman in ICU explaining what Covid-19 is like if you have a bad attack. It’s not something I wish either Vicky or myself to catch. We’re not among the over-70s, but we’re not far off either.

Emily WhatsApps to wish Vicky a happy Mother’s Day. At least we can communicate visually by phone. Tom looks as though he’s going to be seconded as a ministerial adviser to do with the pandemic, being in limbo since his date of transfer to Berlin has been set back, so he becomes another useful pair of hands during desperate times.

Emily is still going into school. Schools have become creches for the children of essential workers. She is also putting herself forward to help isolated elderly people and will be helping out Metzi, an elderly lady in her nineties, who lives a few doors away. She feels strongly that she and Tom should ‘do their bit.’ There’s something very moving about this – the younger generations wanting to help the more vulnerable.

It really is reminiscent of the ‘Blitz Spirit,’ only it isn’t the one fantasised by many Brexiters who never encountered it in the first place.

It’s something for real.

The tone has changed.

The Bigger Picture: A Rising Tide

I don’t know about a rising tide lifting all ships but it certainly threatens all beach properties.

The rising tide of Covid-19 in an age of worldwide media brings with it fear. Our collective extended vision through camera lenses shows us very sick people in ICUs, lying belly down, necks pierced for ventilation. It shows us the grim human outlines in black zip-up bodybags and convoys of military trucks that do all but call us to bring out our dead.

So far, the coronavirus has spread to nearly seventy countries, paralysed the world’s greatest cities and claimed thousands of lives. It will in time infiltrate every populated part of the planet. From rather murky origins in the Chinese city of Wuhan it has infected ninety thousand people to date and is blooming exponentially across the human population. It has already surpassed the 2003 SARS outbreak in a fraction of the time and it’s estimated that everyone who is infected will, on average, pass it on to between one and a half to three others. That means in four infection cycles, the amount of time it takes an infected person to become infectious, a single person could pass the disease to eight others.

It slips between us like a submarine in a shipping convoy, our knowledge of it only arising once it has struck.

A rising virus sinks all ships.

Or does its best to.

That’s its potency. We can’t see it coming. Researchers find that mild to asymptomatic cases were a large driver of the rapid spread of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China. As well as that, the number of undetected cases is estimated to be 11 times more than has been officially reported. Modelling the pandemic is both stark and alarming. If America meets the challenge of halving its transmission rate, from the current 24,000, some 650,000 people may still become infected in the next two months.

Humans, used to linear thinking, can’t grasp exponential until they’re totally freaked out by the alarming fact it isn’t linear.

So much so that at present, in the face of opposition from numerous sports associations, Olympic officials are still insisting that the Tokyo Games will still go ahead this summer.

Tied in by a particular groupthink it will take a while for the new reality to be grasped.

But once grasped that seismic change brings uncertainty and uncertainty in turn brings fear. New cases are accelerating in New York, the number now standing at 10,350. The national level of preparedness in hospitals and health centres falls well short of the mark. In Washington State the coronavirus tore its way through a nursing home, leaving two thirds of its residents, 47 of its staff fell ill and 35 people died. It’s not the only example. And doctors are fearful that they’ll be forced forced to make that ghastly triage in hospitals pushed to the edge of their capacity, namely who will be saved and who won’t.

Once they run short of PPE medics turn from healers to casualties in no time. It’s happening. An Italian doctor dies of coronavirus after working without gloves due to shortages, making up one of its current death-toll to the virus of 5,000. France loses its first hospital doctor to Covid-19.

One in four Americans is being asked to stay home in an effort to curb the pandemic. The governors of California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois told their residents to stay indoors as much as possible, issuing far-reaching demands that all nonessential workers must remain at home. “These provisions will be enforced,” Governor Cuomo of New York said. “These are not helpful hints.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel is self-isolating after a doctor she saw last week was infected.

In Britain all non-frontline workers are also being asked to self-isolate. “This week will be ‘absolutely critical’ in the NHS’ ability to fight Covid-19,” Former Health Secretary echoes Prime Minister’s plea for people to stay indoors.

The over-70s to self-isolate for 12 weeks from the 21st March. All over the country a web of arrangements is underway between relatives, friends and neighbours to see right our most senior citizens. Although well-meaning abounds there are still issues, as the network is both ad-hoc and informal. Many do not have family or friends who can bring them groceries, or their family may become unwell and be unable to deliver food to them because their own self-isolation.

Wealthier, fitter pensioners can manage, but going it alone is tough for many who are less fortunate. Supermarket deliveries are a boon but some have minimum spends and delivery costs which could be considered to be high for people over 70, especially if they are shopping for only one person. Charities, religious communities

The call comes out from my own local council, the Royal Borough of Greenwich:

“Can you volunteer in response to Covid-19? The Royal Borough of Greenwich is aware that many people are keen to volunteer and coordinate action during these challenging times.”

Such calls are well responded to. They become indicative of the public spiritedness that typifies the early stages of Britain’s lockdown. Liverpool stewards offer to help supermarkets during the coronavirus crisis. Reds CEO Peter Moore says staff will assist with “crowd control, queue management, parking control and assisting the elderly and infirm.”

4,500 retired doctors and nurses are returning to work to help fight coronavirus. Thousands of retired health professionals have signed up in the first 48 hours of the government’s call to action.

On my local Nextdoor feed comes a message of appreciation for all our health workers. It simply says:

“Thank you, NHS for all your hard work.”

It’s also hard for the more vulnerable in other ways too. Here’s another Nextdoor message that came my way today:

“Nearest walk-in centre. Hi there. I would like to see a doctor as soon as possible for urgent medical care. All I need is a prescription. No, I don’t have the virus. I can’t make a phone call and I am getting conflicting info on websites, so please someone help. Calling NHS 111 will not help as I cannot hear. I am thinking of just going to Queen Elizabeth Hospital A&E. Just need to talk to a doctor and get a prescription. I live in West Thamesmead, so the nearest is Plumstead or Woolwich.”

Another local resident gives a helpful reply:

“There is an urgent care centre in Erith Hospital as well as Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Erith is usually less crowded so I think it is worth going there. Opening times are 8 am to 8 pm.”

I don’t know what happened next and I hope all was resolved.

I get other local messages. There are more today than usual. A local independent looks like it’s setting up a delivery service while a customer dissatisfied with their second delivery responds with a scathing comment:

“Just got my second delivery and this time around I am pretty disappointed. Strawberries really watery and completely tasteless, apples are old, grapes are sour. The 30 eggs are expiring in one week. Won’t place another order.”

Someone else comes up with a scheme to stop greedy shoppers via intel on their loyalty cards.

These are the important minutiae of everyday life – what matters as we all recede into the snail shells of our domestic existence.

To a large degree it’s the local action that defines Britain in the days leading up to lockdown. Government still seems on the back foot, dealing with the unexpected (largely through lack of planning) and tying up innumerable loose ends. Bizarre things like nurses trained abroad must pay more than £1,000 if they want to register in the UK. The Government faces calls to relax the registration rules during the Covid-19 emergency.

Or the missing out of freelancers in the chancellor’s financial support package. For a country that has long preached entrepreneurialism and where the arts are so central to not just the economy but its way of live it’s strange that the Swiss government can pay freelancers and the self-employed 80 per cent of their salaries, while in the UK we can only access £94 per week.

While big fish, and friends of Number Ten are allowed disproportionate access.

For some there is a cost. The British airline industry is to be part-nationalised under rescue plan to save jobs. Airlines will be told not to pay investors millions in dividends and to axe executive bonuses.

The state gets bigger in the hands of those who sought to shrink it. One of Covid-19’s many ironic outcomes.

So, as I’ve said, we all recede into the snail shells of our domestic existence as we enter a new world of cabin-fever and stir-crazy. No sports. No exercise classes. No birthday parties. No nothing.

No fun?

We still have the gift from Tim Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web. Writers give online readings, songwriters come up with new hand-washing songs that last the full twenty seconds, food writers draw us into their world of novel recipes for beans and the like, and at least one astronaut, Scott Kelly, veteran of four space flights, three-time Commander of the International Space Station, with a passing resemblance to Star Trek’s Jean Luc Picard, tells us about how to deal with isolation.

And after all that there’s still the opportunity to visit a drive-in movie show, that will evolve through time into drive-in rock concerts, theatre and a political convention or two.

If human behaviour is our curse in coping with the virus it also offers some redemption.

But the curse of how we behave. Our selfishness, our stupidity still persists. The National Trust closes all parks and gardens as crowds ignore social distancing. Rural leaders urge people to stay away as city-dwellers head for the hills. There are fears that the NHS and shops in rural areas could be overburdened by an exodus to the countryside. And a man is charged in the UK with selling fake coronavirus testing kits around the world. The kits contained potassium thiocyanate and hydrogen peroxide which are extremely dangerous chemicals if they are ingested.

These are bad times.

The Queen plans a televised speech on the coronavirus crisis. It will be the Queen’s first televised speech addressing a public crisis in 29 years.

These really must be bad times!

We’ll all be singing “The Big Red Candy Mountain,” that anthem of the Great Depression, next!